What’s a Reviewer to Do?

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I started Writing to be Read to promote my own writing and to help other authors, through writing reflections and reviews. We’re all in the same situation. Marketing and promotion are a big part of writing these days, and authors are expected to self-promote to some extent, even if they are traditionally published. The way that books are being rated now, in many places, including Amazon, by the reviews they receive. I post partial reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads for this reason, and have even taken the time to post on Smashwords and Barnes and Nobles upon request from the author.

But, what is a reviewer to do when a book she’s reviewing falls short of all expect a film, like my review of Angel Falls Texas on Friday? Every review I publish has an end note at the bottom which reads like this:

“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.”

I don’t believe in charging for a review because I don’t believe in paying for a review. And I don’t believe in that because I don’t think you can get an honest review when it is paid for. And I do believe a review should be honest. While I amin favor of promoting other authors with my reviews, I don’t believe in hyping up a work when it is not deserved.

Too many authors get their books on the best sellers list simply by having great reviews posted by those who love the author, but don’t honestly reflect the quality of their book. It’s sad but true. (To learn more about what that best seller label really means, check out this article by Brent Underwood.)

As I shared my post for my review of Angel Falls Texas last Friday, I reacted with a sad on each one, because I hated having to publish such a negative review. It’s certainly not going to help the author sell books, which is usually my goal. In this case, to post a review to encourage sales would have made me feel dishonest to my own readers.

I do both solicited and unsolicited reviews. Those that are unsolicited are from books I purchased on my own and I use them as fill in posts when I don’t have any solicited reviews to publish. With reviews that have been solicited by the author or I have requested an ARC from the author, which don’t rate at least three quills, I usually contact the author, tell them my assessment, and offer them the chance to not have the review published. Most authors, like my author friend Chris Tucker, opt to publish the review and take their licks, but there have been a few who have requested that I hold off publication. These authors, hopefully, then go and make revisions to improve their book and then have me give it another chance. I’d rather do that than post a review that may hurt sales.

I try to be fair in my reviews. If a book is one of a genre that is not one of my favorites, I will state that in the review, being upfront about anything that may have influenced the my opinion. But honestly, as authors who are putting their work out there, we all take the chance that someone out there will not like our work, for whatever reason, and will post an unfavorable review. After all, we are only human, and we are never going to please everyone.

As a reviewer, I know I’m not going to love every book that I review. There will be times when my reviews will be less than shining, but I have to be true to myself and to you, my readers, and publish how I honestly feel. All I can do is try and be specific about what I didn’t like in the hope that the author will take it like a critique and find something useful from my feedback to help to improve their writing or the value of the product they put out.

I think the number one thing we, as writers, can do is remember what one of my Creative Writing professors, Russell Davis, said when talking about receiving critiques from our cohorts,

“Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. It’s all about the writing.”

 

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“Horror 101: The Way Forward” Offers Good Advice for Authors and Screenwriters

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This is the longest book review I have ever written. This book was so packed full of useful information for rising authors and screenwriters that I felt I needed to cover it all. If you are an upcoming horror author or screenwriter, trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door or where to start in the matter of launching your career, Horror 101: The Way Forward offers “career advice by seasoned professionals”. Different writers will find different essays useful, so I’m giving you a rundown on all the informative essays included.

Compiled by Crystal Lake Publishing, this collection of essays has something for every writer. The anthology features quotes from the masters such as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov,  J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack London, Clive Barker, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and many others. Advice from professional writers and editors covers all aspects of the horror writing business, and the business of writing, in general. From submitting your work, to marketing and promotion, to self-publishing and building your writing business, to crafting your work and the writing process.

The answers to many questions on the topic of submissions and all other aspects of writing as a business are found within its pages. Not getting positive response from your queries? First read Rejection Letters – How to Write and Respond to Them by award winning author Jason Bark, which offers an attempt to write a rejection letter that doesn’t sting, (at least, not so much). Then, flip to Seven Signs that Make Agents and Editors say “Yes!” to learn what agents and editors look for. Buttoning Up Before Dinner by horror author Gary Fry also offers advice to put you in the good graces of publishers and editors and create well-written stories.

Unsure how to submit your work? Submitting Your Work: Read the F*****g Guidelines by freelance writer and editor John Kenny offers tips for making a professional submission from an editor’s perspective. And What a Short Story Editor Does by horror, fantasy and science fiction editor Ellen Dallow explains the responsibilities of short story editor.

Looking for sound career advice? Be the Writer You Want to Be by television writer and novelist, Steven Savile recycles the best writing advice the author was ever given. The Five Laws of Arzen by award winning dark fiction author Michael A. Arzen offers hints to help you survive a writing career. How to Fail as an Artist in Ten Easy Steps: A Rough List Off the Top of My Head, by Confirmed Failure… by horror author John Palisano provides a reverse list of things you should do to be a successful writer.

Wondering if you need an agent to get your work in front of editors and publishers? Do You Need an Agent? by author Eric S. Brown is a discussion about the need, (or not), for an agent and relates the personal experience of how the author became successful without one. Also included are essays on building your writing business in Balancing Art and Commerce by author and screenwriter Taylor Grant , offering a look at various mediums one can write in and earn a living & advice in the business of writing. There are even essays offered on the lucrative business of ghostwriting, with a personal experience as a ghostwriter shared by dark fiction author Blaze McRob, and Ghostwriting: You Can’t Write it if You Can’t See It by award winning author Thomas Smith instructs on how to step into the author’s shoes and write like them.

If you are hoping to find some help muddling through the vast world of marketing and promotion, The Year After Publication by horror & thriller novelist Rena Mason offers an account of what to expect once you publish your first book and a walk through the exhaustive process of book marketing. How to be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not by horror writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt offers tips for marketing your stories and yourself.  Reviewing by founder of Ginger Nuts of Horror, (one of the most viewed resources in horror fiction), Jim McLeod discusses getting your book in the review pile & what the writer should do while awaiting publication of the review.

If you’ve  not attended a conference or convention before, Pitch to Impress: How to Stand Out From the Convention Crowd by editor R.J. Cavender provides a guide to making a pitch that will snag agents’ and publishers’ attention. Tips for networking at conferences are offered by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner in You Better (Net)Work, and Networking at Conventions by Bram Stoker Award winning author Lucy A. Synder offers a look at the benefits conventions have to offer and a breakdown on some of the major ones for horror writers.

There is a plethora of advice offered on publishing, including a comparison of traditional publishing vs. digital publishing in Weighing Up Traditional Publishing and Ebook Publishing by award winning author Robert W. Walker; Publishing by editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones compares publishing in the digital arena with the way it was done in the past & how to become an independent publisher; and Glenn Rolle Toes the Line with Samhain Horror Head Hancho, Don D. Auria by Glenn Rolle with Interview that maps Auria’s rise to the top.

The arena of self-publishing is also explored in Make Your Own Dreams by horror and suspense novelist Iain Rob Wright. Besides being a plug for self-publishing’s evening of the playing table. It relates personal experience and advice for self-publishing, walking us through the self-publishing process. Self-Publishing: Thumb on the Button by author Kenneth W. Cain gives a list of things to think about before you choose to self-publish.

Also included are essays on the different mediums for horror: Poetry and Horror by Blaze McRob, and Horror for Kids: Not Child’s Play by novelist Francois Bloemhof offers guidelines for writing horror for youth. Several essays on comics and screenwriting, (one of the biggest outlets of horror today), are also included.

Horror Comics – How to Write Gory Scripts for Gruesome Artists by novelist Jasper Bark discusses the craft of writing horror comics and the relationship between writer and artist. Some Thoughts on My Meandering Within the World of Dark and Horror Art by artist Niall Parkinson offers thoughts on creating dark and horror art. So You Want to Write Comic Books… by novelist C.E.L. Welsh discusses what goes into the making of a comic book.

From Pros to Scripts by author and screenwriter Shane McKenzie talks about the many challenges of screenwriting. Writing about Films and For Film by award winning writer, editor and screenwriter Paul Kane gives the story of the author’s rise to success and tips for learning the lingo of the business. Screamplays! Writing the Horror Film by award winning author and screenwriter Lisa Morton offers the basics of screenwriting, description and dialog, and tips for getting your screenplay made into a movie. Screenplay Writing: The First Cut is the Deepest by author, director and editor Dean M. Dinkel recaps of the author’s experience at the Cannes Film Festival.

Essays on writing a digital world include Running a Webserial, or How to Lose Your Mind, One Week at a Time by Southern author Tonia Brown, providing a brief history of serials and a rundown of what goes into running one on the web; Friendship, Writing, and the Internet by Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Weston Ochse with reflections on online connections with like-minded writers, and Audiobooks: Your Words to Their Ears by horror novelist Chet Williamson discusses what it takes to create and audiobook and what to expect from the effort.

Of course, there is also plenty of advice on crafting a quality story. What is Horror? by author and novelist Graham Masterson offers general writing advice which could be applied to any genre and instructs on how to push your writing to the edge. The Journey of “Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears” by author Richard Thomas takes us on a walk through of the writing, editing and submissions process of a story. Writing Short Fiction by horror and thriller novelist Joan De La Haye offers tips to tighten your writing and move the story forward, and discusses where to look to sell your story and how to choose where to submit. Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid by Scottish horror novelist William Meikle supplies a valuable list, if you want to avoid having readers feel cheated. From Reader to Writer: Finding Inspiration by publishing and editing consultant Emma Audsley  offers advise for attacking the blank page. Writing Exercises by horror writer Ben Eads  provides exercises in description and dialogue. Writer’s Block by short fiction writer and novelist Mark West discusses how to keep the creative juices flowing. Editing and revision are covered with Editing and Proofreading by author and editor Diane Parking presents good reasons not to send out a first draft, and How to Dismember Your Darlings – Editing Your Own Work by Jasper Bark gives a brief guide on how to self-edit.

A few essays outline the needs of a writer and suggestions on how to meet them. Filthy Habits – Writing and Routine by Jasper Bark  offers a look at the benefits of creating a daily writing routine. A Room of One’s Own – the Lonely Path of a Writer by horror and fantasy writer V. H. Leslie discusses the need for solitude and space to write in. Writing Aloud by screenwriter and author Lawrence Santoro outlines the benefits of reading aloud as a part of the writing process.

Also included are Partners in the Fantastic: The Pros and Cons of Collaborations by novelist Michael McCarty, which looks at the views of various authors on collaborations, and Writing the Series by series author Armand Rosamilia, which explains why Rosamilia writes series.

Several essays offer advice specific to writing in the horror genre. Making Contact by award winning novelist Jack Ketchum discusses how to turn what you know into a horror show. Bitten by the Horror Bug by horror author and screenwriter Edward Lee looks at what motivates us to write horror. Reader Beware by author Siobhan McKinney explores the role fear plays in horror. Bringing the Zombie to Life by author Harry Shannon maps out four components of a good zombie story. The Horror Writers’ Association – The Genres Essential Ingredient by author and President of the Horror Writers’ Association (HWA), Rocky Wood gives  a rundown on the HWA

What’s the Matter With Splatter? by horror writer and Vice-President of the AHWA, Daniel I. Russell discusses the use of blood, gore and splatter in horror fiction or screenwriting, gives tips on how to use it to gain the desired effect, and discusses why some gore doesn’t get a second thought. Avoiding What’s Been Done to Death by British horror writer Ramsay Campbell defines good horror fiction & emphasizes originality. The (Extremely) Short Guide to Writing Horror by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner offers an introduction to writing horror, including techniques and brief definitions, and a list of good resources for horror writers. Growing Ideas by horror writer Gary McMahon offers a look into the author’s writing process. Writing Horror: 12 Tips on Making a Career of It by horror novelist Steve Rasnic Tem instructs on building your own writer’s toolbox and advice for entering the profession of writing horror. The Cheesy Trunk of Horror by international best selling author Scott Nicholson provides a look at both writer and reader perspectives on horror and dark fiction. Class: Vaginas in Horror by science fiction, urban fantasy and horror novelist Theresa Derwin offers an overview of women in the horror industry. And the afterward by Crystal Lake Publishing’s editor, Joe Mynhardt, includes his own advice for writing horror.

Horror 101: The Way Forward is based on the sound advice of seasoned professionals that is useful to horror writers in any stage of their careers. I recommend it with four quills for anyone who wants to write horror in either fiction or screenwriting.

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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.


It’s All in Finding the Right Market

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My friend and cohort, author Jeff Bowles wrote a post Choosing to Become a Better Writer vs. the God Complexwhere he offers advice on what to do when your novel hasn’t been picked up by a literary agent as soon as you’d hoped, as is currently the situation with his thesis novel. I had to chuckle when I read this, not because the post was meant to be funny, (it wasn’t), but because of the timeliness of the post, as I find myself in the same situation and I have been pondering what to do with my own thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.

Jeff’s advice is sound. Revise. Submit. Repeat. And he’s right in saying that to achieve success in writing, as in most things in life, you must persist in your efforts and endeavor to persevere. In fact, I’d decided on the same course of action for my novel, with a slight twist and a lot of determination. So, my first 2017 New Year’s writing resolution is to get my thesis novel published in the coming year.

Since completing my thesis novel, the first novel in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, I’ve submitted it to seven publishers and four literary agents. It was rejected by two agents and four publishers, and is still waiting for word on three publishing houses and two agents. I don’t hold out hope of hearing from the agents, many don’t even bother to respond unless they’re interested, but the publisher who has had my submission the longest has had my submission for six months. There may still be hope there, but I have to wonder.

I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged with these results, so I started thinking about why my novel wasn’t catching the interest of publishers or agents. e first thing I looked at were my query letters. So, the first thing I looked at were my query letters. As I said, I’ve sent out multiple queries for the first book and been rejected multiple times. I looked at all my queries to see if the problem might be in my presentation.

The query letter is an author’s introduction and it is very important. It’s the first thing an agent or publisher sees, and it determines whether they chose to get to know you and your work better. A query should look professional, and it should tell the publisher or agent about the work you want them to buy into and about the author. It raises their interests and gets them to ask for more than just the excerpt you sent with it. A request for a complete manuscript is the ultimate goal.

Some of you may know the story behind this novel, but for those who don’t I’ll relate it briefly. The summer I presented the proposal packet for my thesis novel was the worst summer of my college career. I had this great idea for a story about a species from a different planet, who come to Earth and present themselves as deities. It was to be a science fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist, Inanna. I presented my idea to my cohorts and nobody got it, (this was partly because I was trying to cram way too much into one book, but at the time it just felt to me like the idea wasn’t well received and I was crushed). So, maybe publishers and agents weren’t getting it now, the same way my cohorts and instructors didn’t get it then?

This led me to take a hard look at the audience which I thought I was writing for and the types of agents and publishers I’ve been pitching to. I’ve sent out my queries for my science fantasy novel to publishers and agents who handle both science fiction and fantasy. Something I had overlooked was that the biggest audience for science fiction and fantasy are young adult readers.Epiphany! I’ve been pitching to the wrong audience!

Because of the summer from hell, mentioned above, my thesis novel has turned into a four book science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle shows the destruction of the Atlan home planet, which explains the reason they are searching for a new home and chose Earth, and how it was almost destroyed before they could make it their home. Book 2: In the Beginning tells the story of how the Atlans made Earth their home and cohabited with humans, and how Inanna becomes the goddess of war and love, forcing her to deal with the dualities within herself. The hero’s journey that Inanna takes in my original story will now be the Book 3: Inanna’s Song. In Book 4: Enki’s Folly, Enki, (the sort-of anti-hero), tries to fix his past mistakes by traveling through time.

By the end of my courses, I had Book 1 and it’s complete submission packet, Book 2‘s chapter outline, synopsis and partial first draft, along with the outline, synopsis and a few chapters of Book 3 completed. If I could do that major transformation in less than a year’s time, I’m thinking I should be able to transform my books into a YA series with minimal revision.

Next, I took another look at the story itself, and I realized that aside from a few instances of harsh language, this book almost reads like a YA novel. Most of the characters are teens, although Atlans don’t experience time the way humans do, (what passes for a year for us is comparable to a millennia for them), and still, some are more mature than others. The series has many of the YA tropes already: a young female protagonist who is idealistic,  (Inanna); a perfectly perfect Mary sue character in Inanna’s BFF, (Ki);  missing, or at least distant parents (Atlan familial units are pretty messed up); plenty of half-human/half-something else characters – mermen and Minotaurs, the characters are diverse;  and there’s a rebellion against the existing power structure, (in reverse).

The one thing that might prevent Playground for the Gods from becoming a successful YA science fantasy novel is the degree of sexual content, which is actually vital to the story line. We’re not talking about unnecessary sex here. We are talking about the story doesn’t work without it. Although it could be toned down some, I imagine I would have several parents who were hot, should I try to market this series as YA, even though it has a lot of the expected tropes. So, I had to look once more at audience, where I took an in-depth look at a market called New Adult.

New Adult has protagonists aged 18-24, and is aimed at audiences aged 18-30, but may appeal to readers of 30 or more. Just as some YA may appeal to adult readers, so New Adult may appeal to older readers, as well. It carries steamier sexual content, that you probably wouldn’t want your thirteen year old reading, but is perfectly acceptable for older readers. In a 2014 article on Book List Online,  YA or NA?, by Michael Cart, Harliquinn Senior Editor Margo Lipschultz points out that “NA rose to popularity as a subgenre that bridged the gap between contemporary YA and contemporary romance, it’s gradually expanding… ” NA is not just a romance market any more, and I’m thinking that the steamier scenes in the PfG series could find a home there.

Another 2014 Book List feature article, What is New Adult Fiction?, by Gillian Engberg, Donna Seaman and others quotes Neil Hollands, adult services librarian at the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library as stating,

“…librarians talking about NA are often thinking of books that appeal to “both male            and female readers, in their late 20s and 30s. The books we’re looking for try to capture        the feel of a generation, including integrating technology’s effects on communication          and relationships, new outlooks on a range of political and social issues, and more                  recognition and blending of the genres that younger readers are most familiar with.”

Now that sounds like my series. While it still has some of the YA tropes and qualities, it also has more mature content and deals with social and relationship issues, the value of technology for better or for worse, and characters in the right age bracket basically, (give or take a few million years), and would appeal to an older audience of new adults.

From my very first M.F.A. class it was drilled into us the important of knowing your audience and doing the research. And I did do my research in the adult market, and now I’ve done my research in the YA market. But, after discovering that it’s a little too steamy for YA, I’ve gone back to research the NA markets, and I’m currently revising The Great Primordial Battle for an NA audience. When I’m done, I plan to promote to the NA markets with high expectations, while I get busy on Books 2 and 3.

Leave a comment to let me know if you think I’m on the right track with PfG: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.

You can find updates on the Playground for the Gods series on its Facebook page, here.

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Looking Back Over 2016

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This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story,  I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.

2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.

13595804_10208551605339796_604487774_nThe top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews. Snoopy Writing

Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of LoveFear is a Writer’s Best FriendI’ve Come A Long Way, BabyWriting the Way That Works For YouCreating Story Equals Problem SolvingWhat’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.

2013-03-16 Ice Festival 014Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.Fear of Laughter

Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary BusinessWriting to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by  Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.

Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I  interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.

bottledOne of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.

Point Break 1Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.

I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to WriteRobin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon13624744_10104024218870042_2001375168_n

I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.

2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.

I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.

I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.

Happy New Year

I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!


Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions

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This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.

As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.

One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.

Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing  and illustration may be provided.

The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.

For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.

As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.

Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there.  As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.

As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.

Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.

Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.

Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.

Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.

In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.

And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?

After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 6): Interview with Independently Published YA Author, Jordan Elizabeth

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Hello and welcome to Writing to be Read, where I am interviewing authors from the three models of publishing: traditional, independent and self-publishing, to explore the pros and cons of each. To date, we’ve heard from self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch, and with traditionally published authors, Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw.
This week , in part 5, we’ll hear from independently published YA author, Jordan Elizabeth, who publishes her steampunk novels, ghost stories and historical novels as well as several short stories, with Curiosity Quills Press. Jordan’s publishing credits, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, include Escape from Witchwood Hollow, CoglingTreasure Darkly, Born of Treasure, The Goat Children, Victorian, Runners and Riders, and three short story anthologies, including Gears of Brass, Chronology, and Under a Brass Moon.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Jordan: My fondest childhood memories involve making up stories into a tape recorder and having my maternal grandmother write them down. Authors have always been my role models. While others fawned over movie stars, I fawned over the authors of my favorite books. One of my favorite childhood authors was Bruce Coville, and a few years ago, I actually got to meet him!
Kaye: Would you share the story of how you ended up with Curiosity Quills Press?
Jordan: My critique partners have always meant a lot to me. I decided to compile an anthology – GEARS OF BRASS – with them in hopes of getting it published. One of my critique partners, Eliza Tilton, shared it with her publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. They accepted it and asked if I had any full length novels I could show them.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Jordan: The biggest con is the stigma. Many times I’ve had people tell me that going with an independent publisher is no better than self-publishing, (as if there is something wrong with that, too). At book signings, I’ve been asked who published my work. When I tell them, they’ll ask if it’s indie or traditional. These people will usually put my book down as if it is tainted.
The biggest pro is having a great, close-knit network. I know authors who have traditionally published and they’ve told me about long delays in questions being answered and feeling distant from the work force behind the book.
Kaye: You mentioned the stigma surrounding independent and self-publishing. What do you see as being the main cause of that stigma?
Jordan: I think the stigma comes from there being a lot of bad, self-published books.  I hate to say that, but I’ve seen them myself and people have told me this at signings.  There are some great self-published books out there…and then there are the books where the author published the first draft with no editing.  Here is my real world example – I met an amazing girl at a book event.  She wrote vampire erotica and I bought a copy of Book 1.  I asked her what she thought of the event and she told me her mom was making her do it.  She was mad that her books weren’t instant best sellers (I think we can all understand wanting our books to be loved by millions).  I asked her what her favorite writing websites were, and she told me doesn’t use things like that.  She doesn’t believe in editing because that just ruins the book.  After I read her story, it sorely needed some editing.  There were many typos, characters changed names and features, and there was no plot.  I could definitely see potential in it and you could tell that she loved the world she had created.  We kept in touch, and I offered to help her with Book 4.  She cut me out of her life then, but did get in touch a few years later to let me know she was quitting writing because of how many negative reviews she had received.  I still feel bad about that.  I hate to see anyone give up on a dream.
 
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
Jordan: I haven’t worked with a traditional publisher yet, so this is hard for me to answer from a personal standpoint. I will say that I’ve heard from author friends, traditional publishers push the big authors and tend to let the smaller, new authors flounder.
As a pro, bookstores are more apt to carry a traditionally published book. Magazines and newspapers are more apt to run a feature on the book. More people know your name.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations, book covers, etc…) do you do yourself, for your books?
Jordan: The publisher handles the book covers and editing, however the marketing and promotion falls to me. Curiosity Quills does do a little. I am in charge of my own cover reveals and blog tours. I seek out bloggers asking for read-and-reviews (my street team is a great resource and helps me out a lot with that). I try to spend at least an hour every night on marketing.
Kaye: You mentioned your street team, which is in fact, how I ended up reviewing Escape from Witchwood Hollow back in Februaryand meeting you via internet. I’ve been reviewing your books and other authors you’ve sent me ever since. Could you talk a little about your street team to let my readers know who and what they are?
 Jordan: I have a street team of 3 women who got in touch with me after reading my first book.  They said they loved the story and were excited that it takes place in a local setting (although names are changed to protect the innocent – and of course there is no cursed hollow), so they asked what they could do to help with promotions  Currently they are helping me to find new readers.  I don’t mind giving out review copies – I just want to share the story with the world, no matter how cheesy that sounds.  They also let me know if they find any coll websites to advertise on and I love getting book recommendations from them.
Kaye: Would you recommend independent publishing as a good path to publication for emerging writers?
Jordan: I would. I feel like going with an independent publisher has helped me to understand the publishing world. I know what makes my website pop, I know what online magazines to advertise in, and I’ve made amazing connections. In the future, I hope to be traditionally published, but I’ll never forget where I got my start.
I want to thank Jordan for sharing with us here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about Jordan and her published works at www.jordanelizabethmierek.com. Be sure and catch next week’s interview with an author who has published work under all three models, middle grade author, Nancy Oswald. It should prove to be very interesting.
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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 4): Interview with Traditionally Published Children’s Author, Stacia Deutsch

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So far, in this publishing series, we’ve heard from three self-published authors who say self-publishing is the way to go for today’s authors. In Part 1, we heard from my talented friend and cohort, Jeff Bowles. In Part 2, we heard from tale spinner, Tim Baker. And last week, in Part 3, we heard from storyteller and author, Arthur Rosch. This week, we’ll hear from the other side of the writing field, as I interview a traditionally published author.

Join me for today’s interview with Stacia Deutsch, who is the author of more than two hundred children’s books, both original and write for hire. I had the pleasure of first, being a cohort to and then, studying under this amazing children’s author, so vibrant and full of energy, and always smiling. She is the author of the eight book, award winning, chapter book series Blast to the Past. Her resume includes Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew,The Boxcar Children, and Mean Ghouls from Scholastic. Stacia has also written junior movie tie in novels for summer blockbuster films, including BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT and the New York Times Best Sellers: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS JR.  and THE SMURFS.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

 Stacia: I didn’t know early on. This is a second career for me. One night when my kids were small, I was reading Harry Potter outlaid to them when I had an idea for a kids book about 4 kids who time travel and meet famous people n history. That became Blast to the Past. I wrote 3 whole books in the series before I ever tried to sell them.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Stacia: Tell everyone you know you are writing a book. I was at dinner with people I didn’t know well. I said I’d finished a book and the woman said, “My nephew is an agent.” He wasn’t, but he knew a lot of them and helped get my first agent. Once I sold Blast to the Past, the editor asked if I wanted to ghost write Nancy Drew. I’ve been working steadily, mostly in licensed work, ever since.
Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?
Stacia: I decided to try it with a book called Lucky Phoo about 3 girls who share a lucky dog. If you aren’t committed to making your self published book your life, and working at it daily, then don’t start. I sell hardly any because I am doing other things. People who do well are dedicated to the process.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing? 

Stacia: I love being with traditional houses and finding my books in the big box stores, or at the airport, or at Scholastic book fairs. There is no other way into those places. The issue is that you aren’t making every cent from your own book, but you have little outlay as well. My agent gets 15% of everything I sell.

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Stacia: It’s a big deal for the author to do their own promotion and really necessary. You have to be devoted to your audience, and build a following to be successful. You need a budget. Do you want to travel, do a book tour? website? blog tour? Everything costs. So, regardless of how you get published, play how much money and time you are willing to put into it.

Kaye: Would you recommend your chosen path to publication, to emerging writers? Why or why not?

Stacia: I am an advocate for traditional publishing. I think agents and editors are gate keepers for quality. But if you have a good idea, that doesn’t fit what houses are looking for, go for it. Just be aware of what you’ll need to do to make it work.

I want to thank Stacia for sharing her thoughts on the publishing industry with us today. If you’d like to learn more about Stacia, you can find her at www.staciadeutsch.com, @staciadeutsch and http://www.facebook/staciadeutsch. Be sure and catch Part 4 of the series next week, when I’ll interview traditionally published author Mark Shaw on Writing to be Read.
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