Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

Jeff

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

I guess I’m a bit of a dreamer when it comes down to it. Head in the clouds much of the time, projecting myself right out of reality because, well, I take more comfort in worlds inside my mind than the world as it really is. I’ve always been that way, and it’s helped me enormously as a creative individual. Has it helped me much in life? That’s a conversation for another time. Or, you know, maybe never.

For me, the dream was always the most important thing, because I understood dreams become reality with startling frequency. I mean, that’s essentially what storytelling is, right? Making something whole, tangible, expressive, from nothing at all. It’s something I have to believe in order to do what I do. If I didn’t think anything and everything was possible, how could I convince you?

I like self-publishing. It’s a good speed for me. I made great efforts to publish short fiction in the traditional form for more than ten years, and I wouldn’t change anything about that time. But then I went off to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, and it slowly dawned on me that recognition, fans, and even money will only get you so far. If you’re dedicated to your craft, you can do it penniless. In no way does it make or break your enjoyment of the act of writing. In fact, achieving something like the ever-ubiquitous yet disappointing “best-seller” status often throws unsuspecting authors into a rut, one that can be difficult to climb out of. With success so comes stress and an urgent need to produce. I’m not good with stress, suffer from some anxiety and other mental health issues, and I somehow knew about myself that if I wanted to put my books out, I’d have to do it in a manner congruent with my everyday tolerance levels.

So when it came time to publish my first novel, I did it myself. I got the most amazing help from a friend of mine to render a cover and some gorgeous chapter-to-chapter artwork, I set the date, released it through Amazon, and then plugged it as best I could, also knowing I’m not a natural salesman. The truth is I would’ve made far more money if I’d snagged a traditional publisher. The truth also happens to be that I don’t care all that much either way, because I’m still the writer guy doing his writer thing, albeit at a somewhat reduced level.

I like controlling the whole process from beginning to end. The product I end up with, for better or worse, is all on me. The people who’ve read my first novel have enjoyed it immensely. Living the kind of life that’s cool and confident and down for lower-case “success”, simply because I’m not sure the upper-case kind is actually all that much fun, well it works for me right now. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll really push for the traditional publishing route. I’m not sure. What price success?

Given the choice, most writers would opt for more sales over fewer. I don’t think I’ve used the word “duh” since I was thirteen years old, but duh. The point is, you can write as much or as little as you want, and you can shoot for the stars or just keep your work on the down-low, but the real question is what fuels you? What keeps you satisfied? Is it money in the bank or pure creative expression? A happy mix of both? What do you want? What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!

If you’re working on a book or have recently completed one, first of all, congratulate yourself. You’ve done something most people on the planet want to do but never seem to get around to doing. Secondly, ask yourself the question in capital letters up in that last paragraph there. It’s harder to find sponsorship than to put it out yourself. That’s true no matter what you do, so consider it numero uno. Are you willing to risk rejection aplenty and month after month of waiting for an agent to reach out and tell you your work is magnificent (or abhorrent)? Or do you want to produce your book on the fly and handle all the publicity yourself later on? Know that for the vast majority of self-publishers, a hundred lifetime sales is considered superb. That’s a slow lunchtime minute in February for one of the major houses.

Work the traditional route, you’re likely to feel under-the-gun and underappreciated by your publisher. DIY it, and you’ll probably feel like you’re grinding your gears, working your butt off just to make a few lousy sales. Release your work through an established house, and perhaps struggle to earn out your advance and start bringing in those royalties. Put it out yourself, and claim your dividends immediately, meager though they may be.

See? Plusses and minuses for both. Nice work if you can get it, but look, your best bet is to keep producing and put your work out however you can, whenever you can. That’s the shotgun method, and it works. I know what’s been right for me in the past several years, but I also claim the right to change my mind someday. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all benefit and no loss. Just keep doing your thing, and if you get the opportunity to publish your work in a major way, absolutely go for it. If you can’t, however, or you simply would rather not, don’t sweat it, because magnificent career legacies have been built on less. Just don’t sell yourself short, and whatever you do, remain true to your vision and your goals.

Now for a little practical advice. You knew it had to be buried in here somewhere, right? If you’re in the market for an agent, find yourself a good searchable database like AgentQuery.com, or if you’re so inclined, think about picking up the 2020 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which many writers throughout the years have found great success with. Your manuscript must be in tip-top shape before you send it to anyone. I know that seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people mess this up. Tip-top means thoroughly revised, edited, and proofread. If you can make it any better, you’re not done with it. Remember to remain professional and courteous, even when you get shot down. Especially when you get shot down.

On the flip-side of the publishing coin, the final state of your book is just as important in self-release, perhaps more so, because you won’t get an assigned editor to walk you through the process. If you can afford one, hire the services of an independent editor, and if you’re not super artistic, hire someone to do the cover and book layout, too. A lot of people, like yours truly, release their stuff through Amazon and call it good, but this is by no means your only option. Vanity publishing, independent print-on-demand, and independent ebook distributors all exist, though do your homework, because some are more attractive than others. Vanity publishing, by the way, try to eschew it if you can. I like Amazon because it’s one-stop shopping, and their KDP publishing system is easy to use, but your mileage may vary, and you may have bigger plans for your work than I’ve had for mine.

Regardless of how you publish, just remember it’s incredibly important to put out the best work you can. You want words you can feel proud of. In the end, your writing legacy is completely in your hands. That’s it for this post, everybody. I’ve got an overdue book to edit, and you’ve got more awesome Writing to Be Read articles to peruse. See ya next time.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



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Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer

By Jeff Bowles

Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

To begin with, this article is written with the upstart in mind. The midnight worker, the weekend toiler, the writer who’s still slaving away in obscurity, penning story after story, unpublished novel after unpublished novel, and for whom the word ‘rejection’ has become a special kind of poison.

When I seriously started writing almost fifteen years ago–and by “seriously” I mean “cared enough to finish a single story and try to publish it”–I discovered pretty quickly that receiving rejections was almost as common as losing at a rigged carnival game. I couldn’t figure out why my writing wasn’t good enough, in what areas it was deficient, and to tell you the truth, it would be several years until such things were even remotely clear to me. Regardless, the absolute worst part of it all was receiving the rejections themselves, because I’m kind of a sensitive guy, and damn, they really tended to bruise the old ego.

Writers vary pretty wildly in how we respond to rejection. Some of us never seem fazed by it. Regardless of how often, how impersonal, and how heavy a solid “no” is, these guys seem to take it all in stride. I’ve never been able to tell if the impressive shrug of their shoulders is a put-on, but I do know one thing for certain: I cannot count myself amongst them. When I got rejections, I’d mope and whine and pout for hours or even days. Just ask my wife, who was my new girlfriend at the time. I’d turn into a real bear, and it was because it hurt so much. Like I said, sensitive guy. Plus, no one could get through to me about one very crucial thing: this is the way it’s supposed to be.

If you’re like me, and you tend to take rejection hard—or even if you’re not like me, and moving on to the next story submission is the easiest thing in the world—might I recommend a little tried and true advice. Accept your rejection phase as a given, and if you can go just one more country mile with me, learn to welcome it as a friend. Your rejection phase is helping to make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Your rejection phase is purifying your desire to write, and in so doing, allowing you to really decide if a writing career is what you want.

Because if it is, no amount of rejection will ever dissuade you. I thought I’d quit a million times. Now I realize there is no quit. No is never the final answer. And anyone who’s been publishing work for years and years will tell you rejection doesn’t end. Sure, you’re likely to receive less and less of it as you progress, but it’s not the kind of thing that disappears entirely. I know it hurts. Trust me, I’m with you on that one. But unless you plan on going all-indie, it really is a necessary part of your growth as a writer. Kind of a raw deal, I suppose. But then again, nobody ever climbs Mount Everest because it’s easy.

Now a brief word on indie publishing. A lot of older writers—and I don’t necessarily mean older in years, but rather older in experience level or maybe in their stance on traditional publishing—tend to believe that self-publishing inherently makes for worse writers. The idea being, of course, that without the resistance provided by steady rejection, a writer can never become all he or she is meant to become. I came up this way. I’d published dozens of times before I ever self-published on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t necessarily find it to be the case.

Sure, there is a lot of disposable material indie-published on the internet. And yes, I also believe adversity makes us better. But a writer can pick up all sorts of lessons and professional techniques in all sorts of different ways. Every time an indie author publishes something online and gets a few bad reviews, it’s not entirely unlike receiving a standard form rejection. In other words, the negative reinforcement can still become a positive.

All of this might lead someone to ask, what are the long-term effects of rejection? Well, this can go one of two ways. The majority of people who try their hand at writing will never even finish a single manuscript. Statistically, that is absolutely the case. Of those who finish, few will ever submit their work for publication. Now, those who do submit their work (or as the case may be, self-publish it) are likely to meet up with a little adversity. I’d say 90% of them will cut and run as soon as rejection gets too much to bear. But that remaining 10% will soldier on, and they’ll likely receive quite a bit more rejection in the months and years ahead. Is there a long-term legacy of rejection? Yes, there is, but it’s seldom a negative one. I think you’ll find one day that you treasure all those formal beat-downs you received.

Here’s what I would say. No matter how you ply your craft, regardless of whether you choose the path of the traditional publisher or the indie upstart, continuous work, practice, blood, sweat, and tears, are the only things that will make you better. Rejection is at times the name of the game, true enough, but it never has to be the final word on anything. Right?

Right.

Until next time, everybody!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Author Update: The Making of a Memoir On Hold Indefinitely

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I’m sorry to say that the obstacles and road blocks I mentioned in my April post have brought my memoir writing process to a screeching halt before it had truly begun, and thus, this bi-monthly blog series must come to a halt, as well, until I can find answers to the problems related to writing about real people and organizations which is necessary to telling my son Michael’s story, as well as my own. Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief  has been shelved, at least for a while due to legalities. This book project is based from my personal experience and is dear to my heart, and it great saddness that I make this decision, but I’m not ready to face the trials that forging ahead with it would require.

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On the other hand, there are exciting things on the horizon. My efforts for the near future will turn to working on the issue of re-issuing Delilah, which Dusty Saddle Publishing has so graciously offered to do. Once this is completed, I plan to pick up where I left off on the drafting of the second book, Delilah: The Homecoming. I just got Delilah back on track in this story with considerable revisions and I’m a little sad to have to delay the completion of this book, but also confident that the story will be better for it.  

WordCrafter Logo

I will be getting the WordCrafter website up and running and ready for launch.  Get ready folks, because WordCrafter Writer & Author Services is coming soon. Services will include Editing and Copywriting services, online courses, and WordCrafter Press.

I’ll also be compiling and publishing the two great anthologies to be released by WordCrafter Press. The Ask the Authors anthology will feature the collaborative interviews from the 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series right here on Writing to be Read. This book will be filled with writing tips and advice from authors who are out there doing it, a valuable writing reference for authors in all stages of the publishing journey.

WordCrafter Paranormal Anthology - smallThe other anthology, Whispers in the Dark, will be a short story collection harvested from the WordCrafter Paranormal Short Story Contest held at the beginning of 2019. It will feature several of the submissions from the contest, including the winning entry, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Had”, by Jeff Bowles. These anthologies are still in the preliminary stages, but I plan to have them both out by the end of the year. I have cover ideas for each one, but only Whispers has a final version at this time. I plan to release it in October.

 

 

To keep up on the latest with my writing endeavors and with Wordcrafter, sign up for my monthly newsletter in the pop-up. When you do, you’ll recieve a free e-copy of my paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets.


Writing for a YA Audience: Books in the Library

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

“This is available at the library, right?’  I get that question a lot.

You should know that I talk about my books.  A lot.  I get excited and that passion spills over whether I’m at a book signing or conversing with a coworker.  Some people don’t want to buy books.  They might not like the book, so they don’t want to invest in the purchase, or they don’t want to have books cluttering their homes.  Whatever the reason, libraries are perfect.

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

If I’m asked locally, then I get to say yes, my books are available.  Other places…well…not so much.  That surprises people.

Here’s the thing about indie books.  Libraries don’t normally stock them.  They need a reason to purchase a copy.  This could be because you’re a local author, because you did an event there, or because someone requested it.

The best way to help out an author is to ask your local library to purchase a copy.  This is a sale for the author and exposure.  People are going to borrow the book, read it, and talk about.  There is no marketing tool as powerful as word of mouth.

Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author.  She’s often wandering libraries looking for something to spark her interest…or she’s squealing over a treasure discovered in a used book room.  You can connect with her via her website

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“How to Become a Published Author”: Every authors reference to publication

how to become a published author

How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication by Mark Shaw is filled with information useful to authors in all stages of the publishing process. Although it’s aimed at aspiring authors trying to break into publishing, as a published author with an M.F.A., it gave me ideas and techniques to consider, as well. Shaw deals with the publication of fiction and poetry, as well as nonfiction. He touches on self-publishing as well as getting a foot in the door with traditional publishers, and offers a wealth of good reference materials.

Mark Shaw is a best selling nonfiction author, yet unschooled in the craft. He made his way into the traditional publishing world through the oldest method known to authors: good writing. And he practices what he preaches. Every book I’ve ever read by Mark Shaw has been well written, drawing readers in as his stories unravel in masterfully crafted ways which keep readers entranced to the end and make them think long after putting the book down. How to Become a Published Author is no exception, with the valuable information contained within presented in a clear and concise format that is easy to reference.

In this book Shaw walks us through the process for getting your books published, step-by-step. Sharing from his own experiences in traversing the pathways to publishing, using his own books and books of others as examples to illustrate his message, providing useful reference materials and links. This book covers practicle steps to becoming published from outlining in the pre-writing stage, all the way through to query letters and book proposals for those who aspire to be traditionally published. It offers marketing tips and advice useful to all authors, since promotion is a role which now falls on the shoulders of authors in many cases of both traditionally and independently published authors.

Much of Shaw’s advise could have come straight out of my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, but he also offered suggestions for nonfiction publishing that wasn’t emphasized, or wasn’t offered through my program. It was helpful in getting me focused as I prepare to write memoir.

In How to Become a Published Author, Mark Shaw speaks from experience, delivering well founded advice on how to get your book published for authors in every stage of their writing careers. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


The Impacts of Digital Publishing

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Everyone talks about how the rise of digital publishing has impacted the book industry and the effects it may have on authors. Some think these effects are good, while others view them as having a negative impact. It is true that digital publishing opened up opportunities for would be writers, making it so just about anyone can write and publish a book with no need to be discovered by an agent or publisher.

But, it is equally true that many brick and mortar bookstores have had to close their doors due to the competition from eBooks and the rapid growth and expansion of Amazon. And, it’s also true that because it is now so easy to publish a book and authors who publish independently are able to circumvent the traditional publishing gatekeepers, there are no gauruntees that the books we purchase will be of good quality writing. There is nothing in place to be sure the books we put out have been edited. So, it would seem that digital publishing had had both positive and negative effects, depending on which area of the business you work in.

One area of impact that many authors don’t realize or appreciate, is the fantastic promotional opportunities the digital era has supplied for us. Due to social media promotion and email, we are able to access direct communication with fans and followers that via means which weren’t available in the pre-digital era, and this is a great plus for us. We need to take advantage of these great opportunities and listen to our readers, when we’re fortunate enough to get a comment or a review. I try to respond back to every comment readers leave me, and check my reviews for new ones frequently. And yes, these days posted reviews can make or break a book’s success, influencing potential readers, so reviews do matter.

Today’s author doesn’t have a fan base of faceless readers. Today’s authors have the opportunity to make connections with their readers. Some authors have found ways to take advantage of this by gathering their followers together in Facebook groups or put together street teams who actively promote their writing or go out and get reviews for them.

I can see how beneficial these practices are, because I know how much time and energy I have to put into marketing and promotion. But even though I don’t harness my fanbase as a promotional asset, I still appreciate the chance to reach out and chat with my readers to find out what works for them and what doesn’t. And while I don’t have a gazillion reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, the ones I do have are good ones, making Delilah a four and a half star read. It’s all because of you, my readers. So, I can appreciate the impact that digital publishing has had in this area.

The negative impacts, the fading of brick and mortar bookstores, the increase in the number of poor quality books put out. They are still there and likely will be for time to come, although I’ve heard the trend for print books is rising again. Unless digital publishers implement some type of quality control system, or all authors act professionally and create quality writing that’s been edited before publication, a poorly written or unedited book is liable to pop-up here and there, being generally unavoidable.

I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t change trends that I feel are negatives on the industry, but I can appreciate the positives that digital publishing has brought with it. I like getting to know my readers. So, before I sign off on  this post, I’d like to urge you to reach out and let me know who you are and what you like, or don’t like, about my writing. It only takes a moment to leave a comment, and I promise to respond to each and every one.

 

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Interview with author Tom Johnson

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Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an old hand in the writing and publishing business, author Tom Johnson. Tom has written stories from a young age. He has been publishing his writing for more than twenty-two years and has over eighty books in publication. He grew up reading comic books and pulp fiction, becoming a collector in adulthood and his stories reflect the fascination that those books held for him. He has also written numerous nonfiction books and is currently involved in writing children’s stories. Please help me welcome Tom Johnson.

Kaye: Hi Tom. Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume  #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog Storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

To get a better idea of what Tom’s children’s stories are like, you can get a free copy of one here. They are short and can be read in only a few minutes.: Wire Dog Has An Ugly Mood Day Or The House of 1000 Mirrors https://wiredogstories.com/2016/01/19/story-40-wire-dog-has-an-ugly-mood-day/

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

You can get the Wire Dog books here:

Wire Dog Storybook #3 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-3-in-full-color/paperback/product-22554849.html

Wire Dog Storybook #4 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-4-in-color/paperback/product-23424745.html

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.

Kaye: You have written since you were a young man, for fifty some years, and you had your own small press for many years. Always, your life seems to have writing at the center of it. Looking back on your life, what does writing mean to you?

Tom: I think writing was always an escape to other worlds, other realms, and other dimensions. We could be anyone we wanted, go anywhere we wished, and experience great adventures. We create those worlds and people we want in them, and our heroes and heroines are who we want to be, or the friends we want beside us. We choose those things that mean the most to us. Whether we’re a cowboy or cowgirl, Conan or Xena, we bring the characters to life. That’s what writing means to me, to give life to my characters.

Kaye: How do you see the rise of digital publishing affecting authors of today?

Tom: Publishing has never been easier. When we were publishing the small press magazines, it was hands on. We did every aspect of the business, from reading, approving or rejecting, editing, set up and printing, then mailing to subscribers and bookstores that carried our magazines. Today we have Lulu and Amazon for all that. We just write, they publish. Anyone can be a writer or publisher now.

These Alien SkiesKaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Tom: I had a dream one night. A young boy was in the woods dying when a strange being found him and comforted him as he passed. The strange being was an alien and I saw the saucer-shaped craft behind him. When I woke the dream stayed with me. Did the alien kill the boy? Why was the alien there? What was the boy doing in the woods? It wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote What Goes There from that dream. The boy was dying from snakebite and the alien took his pain from him so he could pass more easily. Then I made a mystery with the plot. The story is part of my book, These Alien Skies.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Tom: When I write, I don’t want to be disturbed. No music, no background noise at all. My work computer is in my bedroom. I close my door from all outside communication, telephone, wife, neighbors, etc. I have to be alone when I write.

Kaye: You’ve written over eighty books in many different genres over the course of your career. Which of your books would you say are your favorites? Why?

Guns of the Black GhostTom: If we’re speaking of my fiction stories I would probably say my favorite is Guns of The Black Ghost, as it is my homage to Walter Gibson and his character The Shadow (remember him). The Shadow was one of my favorite radio dramas as a kid, and I met the creator of the character, Walter Gibson, in the mid-1970s and we were friends until his passing. I always wanted to write a Shadow novel, but copyright protection kept me from it, thus my own character, The Black Ghost came into being.

However, my non-fiction research books are probably my best sellers. I’ve written over half a dozen of them. A lot of work went into them. A lot of reading and studying, and I think it paid off, as fans have all bought the huge books for the data. These are books that don’t get thrown away, but have a special place on their bookshelves.

Kaye: So, tell us a little about your nofiction books. What is the subject matter and how did you come to write them?

Tom: As a pulp collector it was natural for me to become a historian. I had completed runs in many of the lead characters, thus had the opportunity to study the novels for research, identifying authors, plots, etc. At the time I was writing fiction and Introductions for ALTUS PRESS books, and the publisher wanted my research put into books. Some of those series were Secret Agent X Companion, Operator #5 Companion (History of The Purple Wars), The Phantom Detective Companion, The Black Bat Companion, Dan Fowler’s G-Men Companion, and Echoes 30. Several ran for twenty years, and 171 issues. Some not so long, but just as popular to the fan and collectors today. There may be others, my mind is slipping, but these were the big volumes. They covered the complete pulp series of each title. Echoes 30 covered conventions, pulp books, authors, artists, and publishers. All are in demand and have been good sellers.

 

Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?

Tom: I’m a pantser. I never could understand why you needed to write a fifty-page plot outline, just write the darn book. Once the words start flowing you don’t want them to stop. And they will, if you’re outlining.

Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

Tom: Characterization. Make your characters come alive. You want readers to connect to them, feel for them, and be drawn to them. The plot will work itself out, but if your characters aren’t real I don’t care how much of a plot you have, it will bomb.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Tom: I don’t know that I would want to be rich and famous. What would be next? I want to always be reaching, always trying to entertain. If I set my goal for rich and famous I might forget about the entertainment and pleasure we get from writing. If I entertain one person, then I am already rich. Besides, we already have money, and fame is fleeting at best.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Tom: Write what you know. I’ve read a lot of books where the author is writing about something s/he knows nothing about, and it shows. I know information is at the tip of one’s fingers today, but if you haven’t truly experienced something you will come off as unbelievable if you try to write about the subject.

I want to thank Tom for joining us today on Writing to be Read and offering up some really great answers to my questions. I have really enjoyed having him. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Johnson or his books you can check out his website or his Amazon Author Page.

 

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Reviews: Do they really matter?

Book Reviews

Normally Fridays bring you book reviews on Writing to be Read, but as often happens, life got in the way last week and I don’t have a review ready today. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the importance of reviews for today’s authors. You see a lot of hubbub on social media these days asking for reviews, and it’s one of the top goals for authors, in part because acquiring reviews has become one of the biggest difficulties today’s author faces. First, let’s look at how reviews can help authors, and then we’ll look at why they are so darn hard to get.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Why do author’s even need reviews? What good are they?

In the world of digital publishing, it’s not sales numbers that puts your book at the top of the best seller lists, but the buzz which surrounds it. Reviews drive books to the top, or not. But, even poor reviews are helpful to authors. I know that doesn’t sound right, but it’s true. Author and freelance writer DeAnna Knippling explains it well:

“Amazon’s algorithms are not human, do not have feelings, and don’t actually understand that you’ve just been torn in two by a critical review. What those algorithms see, as far as anyone can tell… is that someone read your book.

“In my opinion, indie writers should treat all stars as good stars. Total stars = success #1.

“Second, indie writers should worry about their average star rating. Higher average = success #2.

“Third, indie writers should worry about their average rating being too universally positive, an indication that reviews were either begged, borrowed or stolen. Variety of star ratings, (obviously heavier on the 4\5 ratings) = success #3.

“Forth, although maybe this should be higher, indie writers should be worried about reviewers going on to buy similar books to yours. If your book is bought and possibly liked by people who normally buy that kind of book, it will be shown more often to people who buy that kind of book. Also bought = success #4. ”

So, reviews not only boost your book up on the best seller lists, but they also direct the audience who views it, which theoretically, can boost your sales. That’s why I post my reviews, or at least a portion of them, on both Amazon and Goodreads. Amazon doesn’t always allow my reviews to stand because I’m not a verified sale. (I do my reviews in exchange for ARC copies.) However, Goodreads even allows me to include a link back to the original review here on Writing to be Read. If an author requests it, I will also post their review on Smashwords, B&N, or any other site that carries their book, if I’m able. After all, the reason I do what I do is to help out my fellow authors. The rules placed by the different sites on  who can post a review and what can be posted can be daunting, but they can be worked around.

Something else I have run into is getting people to download my book, even when it’s free. I offer a free ebook of my paranormal mystery, Hidden Secrets, when you sign up for my monthly newsletter. I’m getting people to sign up, but for reasons I don’t understand, not many are claiming their freebie. I’m not sure why this is, but I know other authors who have experienced the same thing. If you can’t get people to read your book for free, how do you expect to get them to pay for it? And then, if you do get them to read the book, how do you get them to take the time to go back and leave a review?

Hugs for Authors

To find out what problems other authors have in acquiring reviews for their books and learning what works, I did an informal poll of authors that I know, and here is what I found out:

Jordan Elizabeth: Getting reviews is hard. I don’t think I’ve only had 1 or 2 people ever leave a review after purchasing. I’ve tried blog tours, but haven’t had good luck. The best way for me is to seek out blogs and send a personal email.

Tom Johnson: It’s hard to get reviews. I sell a lot of books, but few receive reviews. Readers just don’t want to write them. The easiest way is to sign up for a Blog Tour (there are many tours available, but they charge). However, you will get reviews on the Tour. I review books, and would be interested in reading the first Oracle novel.

Amy Cecil: I have my own personal ARC TEAM, that starts the reviews when a book releases, then I have bloggers and the rest trickle in.

Margareth Stewart: 

1) ask friends and people you have been in contact with lately and kindly ask them if they would read and review your novel.
2) engage with possible audience in social media and ask them for reviews in exchange for free giveaways.
3) contact students and people who are new in the area and ask if they would be willing to do it.
4) I have been advised and therefore passing it on “never buy reviews” – readers do know it’s fake news lol.
5) last but not least, patiently wait for surprises and if they do not come, keep no worries Shakespeare had no reviews as all the other masters (lol).

There doesn’t seem to be any clear cut answers. I can remember when the only people who wrote reviews were columnist, who wrote for the newspapers and magazines, and that’s the only place that you found them. But the industry is changing and now days customers want to hear from customers who bought before them before they buy, so that’s who writes, or doesn’t write reviews, and they appear on every book distribution site where they are available.

Although it sounds as if Amy Cecil might have something going with her ARC TEAM, many authors struggle as much to get reviews as they do to make sales. I don’t see anything wrong with simply requesting folks to read your book and write a review, but it appears this methods lends only minimal results. There are reviewers such as myself out there, but finding them isn’t always easy,

Something I’ve seen in recent ebooks I’ve read is an appeal to the reader at the end of the book, asking them to write a quick review before putting the book down for another. It seems to me that this reminder is strategically placed to catch the reader’s eye just as they finish the story, requesting the review while the tale is still fresh in their minds. It might just work.

As authors, we should be reading as a part of our pre-writing preparations, saturating our brains with whatever genre we plan to write in, as well as factual research for nonfiction or historical works. As authors, we also know that reviews truly are important, so take the time to write a review for every book you read. It may take me a while to get my reviews posted on sites in addition to my blog, but I do eventually get them there. Reviews don’t have to take long to write. A couple of sentences and a star rating will do. But write the review.

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


2018 Writing the Rockies Conference promises something for everyone

wtr_HEADER1

As I mentioned in last week’s post, An Adventure in Book Marketing, I will be sitting as a panelist at Western’s Alumni Roundtable at the Writing the Rockies Conference in July. There I said that was my next experiment in marketing, but to be honest, although copies of Delilah will be available at the book fair, run by Crested Butte’s Townie Books, I’m not expecting my sales to suddenly shoot up off the charts. Writing conferences, as a general rule, are not places where you sell a lot of books, but I’m exciting to be going and representing Westerns M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, (I’m actually representing both of my concentrations, screenwriting and genre fiction), for other reasons. What writing conferences are generally good for is making connections within the writing community, and Writing the Rockies is no exception. It seems Western, or maybe even the Gunnison Valley is especially prolific in this area, because you begin to feel yourself being pulled in to fantastic world of writing and publishing as soon as you step onto the Western campus. And the connections I’ve made at Western and at the conference have been very useful to me in some unexpected and surprising ways. Never have I attended this conference without coming away with some valuable new connections, some of which have turned into long lasting friendships, as well.

This year, it looks like they’ve got a great line-up, including fantastic opera workshop performance of Lottie Silks, with music by Jay Parrotta and libretto by Western Poetry and Genre Fiction student Enid Holden, directed by Ben Makino and Andrew Sellon, to go along with their infamous and very intense poetry symposium. They also have some not to miss Keynote speakers lined –up: Mark Todd, author and founder of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, for the conference Keynote; award winning poets Ned Balbo and Jane Satterfield for the poetry Keynote; Kevin J. Anderson, author of over 140 novels, publisher at WordFire Press and a member of Western’s M.F.A. program staff for the publishing Keynote; Patrick Pexton, former ombudsman for the Washington Post for the creative nonfiction Keynote; and Emmy Award winning screenwriter, John Bowman for the screenwriting Keynote; and Michaella Roessner, published author and M.F.A. program faculty for the genre fiction Keynote. Other presenters in the publishing track include Darrin Pratt, Editor of the University of Colorado Press and immediate past president of the Association of American University Presses, D.H. Tracy, Editor of Antilever Press, and others.

In addition to their always informative workshops, sessions and panels, pitch sessions and manuscript critiques are available, their annual hike above Crested Butte will take place, three day intensive workshops, and full day seminars. Special presentations of Comedy is Hard, by Mike Reiss, directed by William Spicer; and Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo and Valerie Haugen Nuzzo. Film screenings including How Murray Saved Christmas, by Mike Reiss and the highlights from the Crested Butte Film Festival with festival co-director, Michael Brody will also be available.

As you can see, Writing the Rockies is a conference promises something for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of it and I hope you will join us. This is the 19th year running for this wonderful conference and it grows with each passing year. This year the conference will run from Wednesday, July 18th through Sunday, July 22nd. The cost is $300 for the entire five day event if you register before July 1, and $350 after that date. The good news is, although the conference is fully open to the public, every student of Western’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing goes as a part of the curriculum, and there are scholarships available for alumni, K12 educators, and Gunnison Valley residents, as well as anyone else who wishes to apply.  You can sign up for the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference or apply for scholarship here:

https://www.western.edu/writing-rockies-annual-conference

For more information contact:

David J. Rothman, Conference Director / 970-943-2058 / drothman@western.edu

Mark Todd, Conference Coordinator / 970-943-2016 / mtodd@western.edu

Michelle Wilk, Office Support Coordinator / 970-943-2163 / mwilk@western.edu

 

On a similar note, Western State Colorado University still has a few spots open for their low-residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, which begins in July. If you have an undergraduate degree and you’re interested in persuing a career in writing genre fiction, poetry or screenplays or a career in publishing, their program may be just what you’re looking for. Low-residency means you must attend physical class on campus for two weeks each summer and the rest of the courses are online. (Remember, if you’re in the program, you get to attend the Writing the Rockies Conference as a part of the curriculum.) Their faculty consists of successful published authors, successful screenwriters, and distinguished poets. Looking at the successes of myself and my fellow alumni, I have to say they offer useful skills and knowledge that can be applied in the writing industry.

For more information: https://www.western.edu/academics/graduate/graduate-programs-western/graduate-program-creative-writing-low-residency-16 

 

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The Perils Of A Writer’s Career: Guest Post by Art Rosch

I’ve known Art Rosch since 2009, when he became a member of a writing site I was administiring called Writers’ World. Although I’ve never met him in person, we’ve been online friends, supporting one another like only authors can ever since.  Art is a great guya da, and a fine photographer, and a damn good writer. You can feel the honesty in his words as you read them, and that’s not something all authors can do. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Art’s books, Confessions of an Honest Man, and The Road Has EyesI’ve also had the privilage of featuring an interview with Art in my 2016 series on publishing, as well as having him as a member on my more recent Ask the Authors series in March and April. 

During my Ask the Authors series, I did a segment on Building an Author Platform. As a member of the author panel, Art expressed his frustration with the whole author platform/marketing and promotion thing and wasn’t sure how he could respond to my questions in a useful manner. Art had tried many paths to marketing and promotion, at times investing much money with little returns. He didn’t understand the problem and explained, “I can’t even give away books.”

This is one of the pitfals for today’s authors. We’re writers, not marketers. I think we all have gone through it at one time or another, (or will for new and upcoming authors). It’s easy for writers to become disheartened with the whole promotion process, especially if they’re not seeing results from their efforts. I told him to give me whatever he had. If he couldn’t tell me what had worked, he should tell me what hadn’t worked for him and why. I would take whatever he could offer. His response was a wonderfully told author’s journey that was too lengthy to be included in that segment of Ask the Author, but was worthy to appear on Writing to be Read, none-the-less. So, with that in mind, I give you this Guest Post by Art Rosch:

Art Rosch

I’m the last person to ask about marketing and publishing.  Perhaps my experiences might be cautionary, might enable other writers to consider how they proceed.  I can only offer my history as a writer.  You can call me disillusioned, but that’s actually a positive state.  It’s good to dream but it’s important to temper the dream with reality.  You can get swept down some terrible false paths by unskilled dreaming.  I believe that this mantra, “dreams can come true if you persist” is a shibboleth.  A lot of bullshit.  It takes skill to dream the right dream. It takes skill and practice to execute a dream and bring it to fruition.  Everything else is about karma.  Destiny.

In 1978 I took a chance and sent the manuscript of a short story to agent Scott Meredith.  At the time, Meredith had a branch of his prestigious agency that read unsolicited works for a fee.  We’ve been warned countless times about this flaky practice, but it was, after all, Scott Meredith.  He represented Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and James Michener.  I scratched together my fifty bucks and mailed the 3600 words of my comic science fiction tale about a planet where there are six distinct genders.  It was called Sex And The Triple Znar-Fichi.

Eight weeks after mailing my story I received two envelopes.  One was small and one was large.  The small envelope contained a check for $1800.  The large one contained a two year contract to be represented by Scott Meredith.  The agency had sold my story to Playboy Magazine.

I was thrilled and motivated to write.  I was young, ambitious, and not a little fucked up.  There were problems in my life but everyone has problems.  A writer without problems is hamstrung.  Embrace your problems!  They’re your fuel!

A few months passed.  I was sending my works in progress to my editor at Meredith Agency.  He was doing his job.  He made it clear that my first science fiction novel was a bust and that I should focus on the book that has become The Gods Of The Gift.  Then I received a package from New York.  It contained a clear lucite brick featuring an etched Playboy logo.  It carried the news that my story had won Playboy’s Best Short Story Award.  There was another check for $500 and permission to use Playboy’s expense account to bring myself to New York City to attend the Playboy 25th Anniversary banquet and awards ceremony.

The Playboy Banquet was an amazing experience.  I met Playboy’s fiction editor, I got business cards from the editors at The New Yorker, Penthouse, Esquire.  I was a celebrity for the requisite fifteen minutes.  I was hanging with the big hitters.  My table mates at the dinner were Alex Haley, Saul Bellow and their wives.  I was in!  I had made it!

The Gods of the GiftI brought The Gods Of The Gift to a sort of completion and it went on the market.  And didn’t sell.  The agency kept batting for me but I wasn’t turning out viable material.  I wasn’t writing long form books that would sell.  But I was learning.  Two years went by without a sale, and the agency did not renew my contract.  I went into my personal Dark Night Of The Soul, a period that lasted a long time.  In spite of all the obstacles, I continued to play music and write.

In 1976 I had started work on my autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man.  I was dealing with a paradox: how does one write an autobiographical novel at the age of thirty?  The answer isn’t complicated.  One starts.  And one lives.  Here I am, now, at the age of seventy, sitting on a huge body of work.  When I was contracted to an agent, I couldn’t write to sell. Now that I can write to sell, I can’t find an agent.  The ground has shifted.  We live in a new era.  Even with a publisher and an agent, we’re still on our own with regards to marketing.  Unfortunately, I’m not much of a marketer.  It takes money to market, and I’m not rich enough to front a sustained advertising effort.  I’ve been online for fifteen years.  I have eight hundred ninety Twitter followers.  My Facebook stats aren’t much better.  I have an excellent blog that features all my media work.  It’s gotten so that I’m shocked when I receive a comment.  I’m all over the web.  I’m on Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, you name the social medium, I’m there.

It’s my photography that gets the attention.  I suppose that’s natural.  Images are so much more accessible than literature.  We live in a tough time for writers of quality.  There are so many writers, yet it seems as if there are fewer readers.  The sales figures for my books are shocking.  I can’t even give them away.  In three years I’ve sold twenty five copies of my e-books.  I’ve given away about eleven hundred.  Those figures are spread over three books.  In spite of this epic failure I persist.  I figure I’m somewhere near my peak with regards to my writing skills.  I’m a late bloomer.  I’m also a writer who works a long time on each project.  Like decades.  Confessions Of An Honest Man only reached its completion when I switched from past to present tense.  It changed everything.  I finished that work last year.  Begun in 1976, finished in 2017.  Same with The Gods Of The Gift.  It didn’t totally gel until I had revised it countless times and solved a thorny structural problem.  Begun in 1978, finished in 2016.  I can at least regard my non-fiction memoir, The Road Has Eyes with some affection.  It took a year to write.

The Road Has Eyes

I again made contact with the Meredith Agency in 2001.  They didn’t give me a contract but one of their editors was interested in me.  Barry N. Malzberg is/was a science fiction author, critic and NYC literary personality.  His editorial approach (with me, anyway) was brutal, confrontational, maybe even abusive.  The cumulative effect on me was positive, but the experience gave me a two year bout of writer’s block.  He helped me with Confessions Of An Honest Man.  I’m considering making contact again.  With some trepidation.  He was a rough editor.

Confessions of an Honest ManMy plan?  I’m going to invest in Confessions Of  An Honest Man and produce paperbacks.  There’s something about a physical manifestation that enlivens a book.  My intuition tells me that this is the right step.  I’ll follow with my other books. I have an as-yet-unpublished fantasy book, The Shadow Storm (about fifteen years in the writing).  I’ll bring it out.  I expect nothing.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I’m just too f’ing old to have an attachment to results. It’s about the process of writing and publishing.  It’s obedience to my inner voice.

I’m a very flawed person. I’ve lived at the extremes of life.  I’ve experienced the horrors of addiction and homelessness.  I’ve been a yogi/junkie.  How’s that for a paradox?  But I survive and have found a niche in the world.  A place to write.  I live in an RV with my partner and two obnoxious teacup poodles.  That’s good enough.

Thank you for sharing with us, Art. Watch for my review of The Gods of Gift in the near future. You can learn more about Art and his work at:

Novelist and Memoirist, literary fiction, science fiction, poetry and essays
Arthur Rosch Books

Blogger 
Write Out Of My Head

Confessions Of An Honest Man
The Gods Of The Gift, science fantasy
The Road Has Eyes: A Memoir of travel in an RV

If you’d like to have a guest post you’d you’d like to have featured on Writing to be Read, contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com. I wish I could, but at this time, I am unable to compensate you for your words. This blog is a labor of love, and so must be all guest posts.