My guest today is an author and talented illustrator of children’s fantasy books. She seems a bit shy, but I was able to coax a few answers out of her, regarding writing for children and creating beautiful illustrations. Because, after all, at least half of writing for children is creating visual images, so an author who can do their own illustrations comes into the game a step ahead. Please help me welcome author and illustrator Judy Mastrangelo.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Judy: I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was very young.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Judy: As a child I would write little stories from my imagination, or about my everyday experiences.
Coming from a fine art background, I’ve always loved the wonderful artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, who illustrated books from about 1850 to 1925. I like to think that I continue along this line in my own small way. I enjoy writing stories that I illustrate, and also love illustrating classical stories in the public domain.
Many of my paintings have been licensed for various markets, such as art prints, wall murals, greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles, oracle cards etc. I have written and illustrated several published books. And I have both illustrated and written the text to a new inspirational Oracle Card Deck which will be on the market next year, published by “RED FEATHER MIND BODY SPIRIT”, a division of Schiffer Publishing.
You can see and hear podcasts about my artwork on Youtube.
These include some radio interviews, plus several teaching podcasts about the steps I take in the creation of my Art. To learn more about my Art and products, you can visit: www.judymastrangelo.com
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Judy: I am a “movie buff” and enjoy many genres of film.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?
Judy: I try not to “talk down to children”. Just having fun at writing is what I enjoy doing, and making my stories come from my heart, expressing how I feel. My books are really intended to be appreciated by all ages ~ the young and the young at heart. I attempt to appeal to the “Child in all of us”, and to rekindle the wonderful feelings we have all experienced in our youth, of the awe and beauty of the world around us. As we grow older, life seems to become more mundane, with all the everyday things we have to do in order to survive. The realm of art certainly plays an extremely important part in everyone’s lives, so that we may feel uplifted and inspired to higher worlds.
Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach children?
Judy: I like to impart the wonder and beauty of the world around us; sensitivity to nature and to all living beings, including animals, plants, and trees, as well as humankind are excellent lessons to understand. I feel that developing creativity as an art form, and one’s imagination, are very important aspects of life. Many people seem to place imaginative painting and literature more in a children’s category, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre of fantasy art is appreciated by all ages.
Many adults also enjoy themes, such as fairy tales, and other types of fantasy. I’m sure no one will dispute the fact that great authors such as William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barry, etc. wrote memorable outstanding fantasy stories. And that’s why I feel that my writing and paintings can also appeal to any age person.
One just has to “let go” of their preconceived notions that fantasy, fairies, fairy tales, etc. are just for the young. It will keep us all “Young at Heart” if we believe in the magical power of art to unleash our imaginations.
Kaye: Your books are illustrated in bright, vibrant colors. What medium do you work with?
Judy: Acrylic paint on canvas is my medium of choice.
Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about illustrating your own books?
Judy: The art of illustration is very dear to my heart, something I have been developing my entire life. It is a labor of love for me, and I paint because I enjoy doing it so much. I usually paint slowly, because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and as a result my paintings aren’t created very quickly. This can sometimes present a problem. But I do enjoy illustrating my own books that I also design. Many of my books I have written myself, and others have stories or poems that are in the public domain which I illustrate. It’s all great fun to illustrate, and I relish every moment I spend doing my paintings!
Kaye: What is the most important quality in a children’s story for you?
Judy: Delight, imagination, and fun.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Judy: Be true to my heart, be myself, and enjoy the process of creating.
Kaye: Flower Fairies is focused on the characters. What comes first in your mind, the character, or the story?
Judy: I’m a very visual person, and often I first get images in my mind of a painting that I would like to create. Often this “germ” of an idea or image leads to a story, or a series of paintings. So I would say that the story as a whole comes first.
Kaye: As a children’s writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?
Judy: I often research period costumes for my characters to wear, and I also consider other art forms which portray the ideas I wish to develop in my stories. I love all forms of great art, and often music, drama, dance and other literature is a great inspiration to me, as well as great painting of course. So I immerse myself in art that I love, as part of my research for a specific project. It brings me great joy to do this.
Kaye: Tell me a little about your Portal to the Land of Fae series?
Judy: The world of nature spirits has always been fascinating to me. I love the realm of fantasy. And the tiny folk, such as fairies and elves are of particular interest. For many years I’ve done paintings of these lovable spirits, and have enjoyed writing about each painting I create. I love writing poems to go with my artwork, and have enjoyed describing my feelings about the fairy world. The idea of making a series of books incorporating these works was an intriguing one for me, and four categories developed from them:
FLOWER FAIRIES: This book tells about the precious Elves and Fairies who live amongst the Flowers, such as: the graceful ROSE FAIRY, and the comical little SWEET PEA ELVES. I often depict Flower Fairies to appear as graceful ballet dancers. In this genre of art, I have been inspired by the Flower Fairy paintings of British artists Cicely Mary Barker and Margaret Tarrant.
In my SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES, I portray the secret life of elves and fairies that I imagine to exist in amazing places. There are many delightful things that i depict these creatures doing. They often enjoy frolicking and playing in a garden. These secrets tell of the hidden world of elves and fairies, little known to mortals. I’ve also written and illustrated depictions of the four seasons with the fairies, and their beautiful romantic lives.
FAIRY TALE FAIRIES, various forms of fantasy have always been the closest to my heart. They include fairy tales and myths.
The world of fairies has often inspired the arts of other great literature. Some excerpts from classical literature for this FAIRY TALE FAIRIES book are included in this volume. You will see some of my illustrations from Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, Cinderella by Charles Perrault, Peter Pan by James Barrie, and many others. Sometimes authors and painters depict elves and fairies in a darker way, but I prefer to focus on depicting the lighter, more cheerful and spiritual side of the fairy realm.
MYSTICAL FAIRIES: In this volume, I want to share my feelings of Spirituality and Goodness, Love for Life and Nature, and the Healing power of Art. I feel that Elves and Fairies, are beautiful, Magical, and Spiritual Beings which can inspire and uplift one to higher realms. I often depict them as radiant beings, which glow with an inner light, with radiating and sparkling auras, glow like spiritual Angels.
Kaye: Your Come Play with Me series includes bonus features. Would you like to tell us about the series and bonus features?
Judy: My Come Play With Me book series is designed to give readers high quality illustrated storybooks in full color. They also include some delightful interactive bonus pages. These books include fun filled things, such as How to Draw pages, coloring pages and recipes, etc.
My first book in this series, THE STAR, illustrates the entire famous TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR poem, written by Jane Taylor. I’ve interpreted this beloved poem, as a fanciful, Dream-like adventure. I’ve included a delicious bedtime snack recipe, some “how to draw” pages, a creative writing section, coloring pages, and some decorative gifts to cut out, etc. An Audiobook of my book THE STAR is also available, where people can listen to this song being beautifully sung. If the kindle ebook, or paperback versions of my book THE STAR are purchased also, along with the audio book, people can sing along with the audiobook as they read it interactively.
Two other books in this series have a Bunny theme: The first one, entitled WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? is my original story of a little Bunny’s first adventure. Some interactive pages include Mama Bunny’s recipe, coloring pages, creative writing and drama ideas, and decorations to cut out from the book. An audiobook of this story will be available soon, to be listened to interactively along with reading this book in kindle or paperback.
The second Bunny book in this series, LEARN TO DRAW BUNNY AND HIS FRIENDS, is a companion book to my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? In it I show easy to do, attractive, and fun ways to learn to draw little Bunny’s animal and flower friends that he meets in the book about his first adventure.
Some of the animals I show how to draw are rabbits, frogs, butterflies and turtles. Then daffodils, daisies, and buttercups are several of the flowers I describe drawing, all in three easy steps. It’s a delightful interactive book, which also includes special pages for people to draw their own pictures, with small border decorations for inspiration.
Kaye: Which character is your favorite? Why?
Judy: One of my favorite characters is Little Bunny in my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? He is a sweet innocent little rabbit who is delighted and excited at the opportunity of investigating the big world all by himself for the first time. I’ve modeled this little animal on our own dear little Netherlands Dwarf pet rabbit, who is very loved by my husband and me. He gives us both a lot of Love in return. Knowing this adorable Little Bunny intimately was a great inspiration to writing and illustrating my story.
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
Judy: My inspiration comes from many things: my love for nature, for instance. When I am in a flower garden, I imagine delightful Flower Elves and Fairies living there. I visualize them wearing costumes made of leaves and flowers, acorn caps, etc. I collect things such as leaves, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and scarves, to give me ideas for their fanciful clothing.
I take photos of beautiful places that I visit, to give me ideas of backgrounds for my paintings. Great art of the past and present is always an inspiration to me, such as: wonderful films, great literature, beautiful music, ballet dancing, and beautiful paintings. They always kindle my enthusiasm.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your creative process?
Judy: I have developed a method I call “Mind Painting”. This is my own personal way of capturing ideas and images for my paintings and writing, which develop in my mind. This is a procedure used by many creative authors, composers, painters, poets, choreographers, etc. throughout the ages. I just close my eyes and “visions” appear in my head. I do this during the day, or at night before going to sleep. These images often develop into stories which evolve into my books. It’s a delightful process.
Kaye: What is your greatest achievement to date in the literary world?
Judy: Reading and hearing the wonderful and appreciative compliments from people who have read my books, and who have seen my illustrative paintings, has always been very encouraging to me. I receive these compliments from all kinds of people, worldwide, and of all ages. I feel that these wonderful responses have been the greatest achievements in my literary and artistic world.
I want to thank Judy Mastrangelo for sharing with us here today, both her wisdom and her fabulous illustrations and book covers. You can learn more about Judy and her children’s books on her website or on her Goodreads Author or Amazon Author pages.
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After writing an excerpt of Delilah for an assignment in grad school, I remember thinking, ‘this could be a book’. But I also remember thinking that a western by a female author probably wouldn’t sell. Women weren’t supposed to write westerns. After all, the western frontier was for rugged men. I knew there were women in the west, but I guessed that they weren’t protagonist material. Then, I wrote and published Delilah anyway. It was a story that wanted to be told. My character, Delilah spoke to me and the writing of the tale was too important for me to let the idea that it might not be a best seller stand in the way.
In the meantime, I was happy to learn that there are other female western authors out there. I’m pleased to have one as my guest today. Her books are set in the historical New Mexico landscape based on factual historical people and places. Western fiction author Loretta Miles Tollefson will share her thoughts on the matter of gender in the western genre and other aspects of writing and her books.
Please welcome Loretta Miles Tollefson.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Loretta: When I was fifteen I won a writing contest in a Sunday School paper and that triggered a deep desire to continue to see my words in print. I published a couple more pieces in that same paper, then branched into short stories and poetry in my 20s and 30s. I had a few things published and received a co-publication offer for a novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to follow up on that. I continued to write and had some poetry published in my 40s and early 50s. I self-published a couple novels in my mid-50s and then The Pain and the Sorrow was published by Sunstone Press in 2017. I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to advertise a novel that had been traditionally published and went back to the self-pub route with Not Just Any Man.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Loretta: I was 15 but, because I come from a very practical family, I chose to take the pragmatic approach of going into newspaper and magazine work instead of stepping into the uncertain waters of fiction. Eventually, I became a Special Projects Manager for a regional planning organization here in New Mexico, a job which utilized both my writing and research skills. I didn’t realize my dream of writing full time until I retired about five years ago.
Kaye: What is the most enjoyable part of writing westerns for you?
Loretta: For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is finding ways to bring the historical details, my characters’ personalities, and the storyline itself together. It’s like weaving a tapestry. And then there’s always the sudden inspiration that seems to come out of nowhere, when my characters seem to be telling me what they want to say. Although I, as the author, always have control, I’m sometimes surprised at where the story takes me.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing western fiction for you?
Loretta: I think my biggest challenge in writing historical fiction set in the West is feeling like I need to double check all the details. Even though I grew up on a small farm and we had horses and cows and chickens and hung the clothes on a line and pretty much all the rest of it, there’s a great deal I don’t remember or took for granted at the time. And, of course, I didn’t actually live in the early 1800s. I have to be careful not to assume certain ways of doing things or specific pieces of equipment were common back then. I’m always concerned that I’ll slip into an anachronism.
Kaye: You follow the old adage “write what you know”, setting your books in areas where you have lived and are familiar with, yet you must envision those settings in another time period. It seems perhaps your own setting acts as inspiration for your stories?
Loretta: It does. Very much so. I’ve lived in New Mexico almost thirty years and was fortunate enough to travel all over the state in connection with my job. Then, after I retired, we moved to Eagle Nest, New Mexico, on the northern end of the Moreno Valley. We lived there five years and that experience really brought together my love of history and my desire to write full time. There’s so much history here in New Mexico that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. We recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that will continue to inspire me and to provide me with great resources for my research.
Kaye: Your novel, Not Just Any Man, was recently released. Would you like to tell us a little about that book?
Loretta: Not Just Any Man is about a black mountain man in 1820s New Mexico named Gerald Locke, Jr. It’s an adventure story, as Gerald traps in Northern New Mexico and then joins a fur trapping expedition across the Arizona desert and up the Colorado River. The group includes Enoch Jones, the only mountain man in the West who seems to have an issue with Gerald’s skin color. Jones has a few other issues as well, and the conflict between the two men is a crucial plot element.
But this isn’t just an adventure story. Gerald has met a young woman in Taos who seems far above his station in life and he can’t stop thinking about her. Even if he can survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as Enoch Jones, can Gerald prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Kaye: Do you think western readers are more receptive to male protagonists?
Loretta: There certainly are a lot of male protagonists in the western genre. I think this is because the traditional Western initially reflected the cultural assumption that only men played an active role in events in the West. As we broaden our understanding of the historical West, both before and after the United States was the primary actor there, we’re realizing just how often women played critical roles on the frontier. Life was harsh. Any family that was going to survive needed everyone in it to be fully engaged. Women had to take on roles they hadn’t necessarily played before. If anything, I believe their experiences on the frontier helped to begin breaking down the barriers that we’re still disassembling today. As we do that, I suspect Western readers will become more and more receptive to all kinds of protagonists.
Kaye: You have wonderful covers with beautiful landscapes that cry out ‘western’! Where do you get your covers?
Loretta: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like them. I worry about my covers. Other than The Pain in the Sorrow, I’ve designed them all myself and created most of them using a combination of Publisher and Gimp. The pundits’ advice is to have someone else do them, but I tend to have very specific ideas about what I want, and I haven’t yet discovered anyone who can quite catch my vision.
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was strongly inspired by New Mexico history. Its characters actually existed and the primary incidents in the story are based on historical artifacts.
The plot of Not Just Any Man is also strongly situated in actual events. While the protagonist and villain are both fictional, most of the mountain men in the novel, are based on actual people—Old Bill Williams, Milton Sublette, Ewing Young, etc.—and much of the story line is based on their first-hand accounts.
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow has historical basis, as do all your books as I understand it. And it’s obvious that you strive to make your details as accurate as possible. Do you weave the history into your stories or is it the New Mexico history that inspires the stories?
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow is based in New Mexico history and a historical figure of legend, but the story about your female protagonist. Not all of your novels have female protagonists though. Was the female protagonist easier to write since you have a natural female perspective?
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was a very difficult story to tell because of the abuse my teenage protagonist suffers at the hands (and other body parts) of her husband. I think that writing Gregoria’s story may have been more difficult for me precisely because I am female. My emotions were very raw during the entire process. I might have found it easier to tell Gregoria’s story if I didn’t have a “natural female perspective” and felt less connection with her.
Kaye: Do you think it’s more difficult for a female to make it in the western genre than it is for male authors?
Loretta: I think it’s difficult for any author to break into any genre today, regardless of their gender. However, it seems to me that more women are writing Western-style stories and getting them published than has been true in the past. For example, of the fourteen authors showcased in Five Star Publishing’s recent The Trading Post and other stories, four or five are women. In early December 2018, the twenty top-sellers in Amazon’s Western category included at least two women. There may have been more, publishing under a male pseudonym. We’ll really know that women have made it in western fiction when no one finds it necessary to use a male, or male-sounding, pen name when they do so.
Kaye: My publisher slapped Delilah into the romance category, listing it as a frontier romance. While there is a romantic element to the story, I didn’t make it the major focus of the story. I guess they thought it was more marketable as a romance, and I do think that because my protagonist is female, the book might have a stronger appeal to a female audience. Do you think western readers are more receptive to stories with a male protagonist?
Loretta: That’s hilarious. I really liked Delilah and I enjoyed the romance element in it, but classifying it as a frontier romance seems to me to diminish its marketing potential. I never search for frontier romance. As a result, I would have missed Delilah entirely if that’s the only place it could be found. I feel strongly that the current way the market is being sliced into finer and finer categories does us all — readers and writers alike — a disservice because it makes it more difficult to find the well-written, well-conceived books like Delilah that transcend easy categorization.
Kaye: Do you feel that it is harder for women authors to be taken seriously in the western genre?
Loretta: To a certain extent, this may be true. After all, as I mentioned above, some women authors of Westerns apparently feel that it’s necessary to use pseudonyms to obscure their gender. But I think that as we persist, this will become less and less of an issue.
Kaye: You are also a poet and you have out several poetry books. Would you talk a little about what inspires your poetry?
Loretta: My poetry is very personal, especially But Still My Child, which contains the poems I wrote after a miscarriage over thirty years ago. The poems I wrote during that time and afterwards helped me process that grief and I hope publishing them will support others in that same process.
My other volumes of poetry were the result of an attempt to blend my interest in poetry with my love of story. For historical stories, now that I think of it. The poems in But Then Moses Was There and Mary At The Cross try to get inside the heads of Biblical characters to express what living their experiences might have felt like.
Kaye: You’ve also written other non-western novels. What other genres do you write in?
Loretta: I’ve written an urban fiction about coming of age/homelessness in 1980s Seattle and a chick lit novel about a New Mexico couple who wins the lottery. I’m not working in either of those genres now. I’m focusing my energies exclusively on historical fiction set in Old New Mexico.
That focus on historical fiction has also resulted in two short story collections set in New Mexico: Valley of the Eagles and Old One Eye Pete. Valley is a collection of micro-fiction. The stories are all 500 words or less. Old One Eye Pete contains longer pieces, with stories featuring the mountain man Old One Eye Pete acting as the narrative thread.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Loretta: It’s called Not My Father’s House. It’s a sequel to Not Just Any Man and (spoiler alert!) focuses on Suzanna’s struggle to adapt to living high in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’ve just finished the second draft, so it should be out by the middle of 2019.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Loretta: I research material for my upcoming books — or at least I tell myself it’s for my upcoming books. Hah! And I read fiction: historical, mystery, suspense, Westerns, and pretty much anything else that looks interesting to me at the moment. I review most of everything that I read, unless it has 100 reviews or more. I would love to review more historical fiction set in 1800s New Mexico and Southern Colorado, since Southern Colorado was part of New Mexico at one time.
Kaye: Would you tell us a little about your blog? What will readers find there if they visit?
Loretta: My blog is at http://www.LorettaMilesTollefson.com. About once a week, I post a short piece about a historical event or a flash fiction story set in Old New Mexico, which I define as anything prior to statehood in 1912. The site also includes news about, and links to, my books.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Loretta: I have so many favorites. This is a hard question to answer. I think right now, given the work I’m doing, the person I would most like to have lunch with would be Paulette Jiles. I really enjoyed her News Of The World and the way she brought actual events to life in that book.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Loretta: I read and explore the region with my husband. Ultimately, it’s all research.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Loretta: My writing process consists of writing the first draft, letting it sit a month, revising, letting it sit a month or so, then revising again until I feel it’s really ready. This process seems to be becoming more unusual in today’s fast-paced writing environment.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Loretta: At the moment, I’m doing all my own research, marketing, promotion, book covers, and so forth. I’m stretching myself pretty thin with all these different activities, but doing it all gives me a lot of control. I may have to start farming some of the non-writing work out as I move along in my journey.
Kaye: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Loretta: To tell you the truth, I watch so little television and so few movies these days, that I’m not sure who would be the best actor to play Gerald or Susanna in a movie based on Not Just Any Man or Gregoria or Charles Kennedy in The Pain And The Sorrow. I’d love some input from your readers on this question.
Kaye: I can and will reach out to readers for input on who should play your leads were your story made film, but now you have to answer another question: Since many of my readers may not have read your books, can you tell us what characteristics these characters would have so they can better imagine who would be a good fit?
Gerald: square forehead, gray eyes. Half black/half Irish. Late 20s.
Suzanna: slim, tall for a woman (about Gerald’s height). long black hair, dark brown eyes. Half anglo (WASP), a quarter french, a quarter Navajo. About 16.
Alright readers. Here’s your chance be heard. Who do you think would be good for the roles of Gerald and Suzanna? Please comment with your suggestions. Loretta and I would both love to hear the possibilities.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Loretta: In a nutshell: read, revise, revise again.
If you plan to write fiction, read fiction. Especially classic fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, and so forth. Also, read contemporary fiction, and not just books in your genre. Some of my favorite authors right now are Louise Penny and Donna Leon. They teach me pacing and character development. I’m especially fascinated by the way their protagonists develop over the course of the series. Everything’s research, even the books you don’t like. And don’t be afraid to express your opinions and trust your instincts. It’s okay to not like a book even if everyone else is saying how wonderful it is.
Most of all, revise! As Anton Chekhov said, “rewrite everything five times.” Well, maybe not that many, but you see what I mean. I would add “but not immediately” to that advice. Take the time to let your work rest, and then go back and look at it again. When you start changing sentences back to the way you had them in a previous version, that’s when you should stop. But not until then.
Revise it, let it rest, then revise it again. There’s a popular saying that “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I am uncomfortable with that statement. While no work is going to be absolutely perfect, rushing to publication is the enemy of quality work. Try to get your story as well-written as possible. Producing quality work is what will keep your readers coming back for more.
I want to thank Loretta for joining us today and sharing a glimpse into the world of western writing from a female author’s perspective. I have admired her work since I reviewed The Pain and the Sorrow last May, and it’s a thrill to have the privelage of interviewing her. It’s a real treat to hear from another female author in the world of western fiction.
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Robbie Cheadle is a very creative mother, author and fondant artist, who thinks outside the box to find inventive solutions for life’s difficulties. I first met Robbie through Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party Halloween book event, where I did a reading of her short horror story, The Willow Tree, via audio recording for the event. During her takeover, Robbie posted images of her delectable creations to promote her Sir Chocolate book series for children, which she wrote with her son, Michael. She uses these image of her baked creations as cover art and to illustrate the book series. I thought this was incredibly innovative, and I immediately wanted to know more about this woman, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to add her to the WtbR team.
Robbie is my Christmas gift this year, as I’ve been searching for a children’s author to join the Writing to be Read team. So, starting in January, Robbie will be popping in the second Wednesday of each month with her new blog series on writing for children, Growing Bookworms. I can’t wait to see what she has to share with us, so let’s learn more about her.
Kaye: Your Sir Chocolate covers are photos of your own delectable desert creations, which is very creative. Which came first – the baking or the writing?
Robbie: I started with baking and fondant art quite a long time before we wrote the books, but pairing the two was an idea that only came later. I used to write poetry and descriptive passages as a tween and teenager. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery was my favourite book when I was a tween. Emily is a poetess in the book and her father is a writer. The book inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? How did the published works of Robbie Cheadle come to be?
Robbie: I never planned to become a published author when I first started writing the Sir Chocolate stories. My son, Michael, aged 6 years old at the time was having difficulties with learning to read and write. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem which made these activities difficult for him. He had the loveliest story ideas about a little man made of chocolate who lived in a land where you could eat anything, even the sand, trees and houses. In order to encourage him to write, I made up rhyming verse stories using his ideas. Together we wrote them down in handmade books.
I have always enjoyed fondant art and sometimes Michael would come and sit with me and make his own version of what I was making. We started making illustrations for the books by taking photographs of our creations. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the Sir Chocolate stories, so I tried them out with my Sunday school class of children. One of my friends at the Church suggested I send the stories and pictures to a friend of hers who is a publisher in the UK. Anne liked the stories and gave us a contract for the Sir Chocolate series of books.
Kaye: You talk about fondant art. I, for one had never heard of this. Could you explain briefly what fondant art is?
Robbie: Fondant is also called sugar dough and is an elastic type of icing, almost like modelling clay. This is the substance that cake bakers use to make figurines, flowers and other edible artworks for cakes. The items in the picture I emailed you are all made of fondant.
Kaye: You’re the co-author, along with your son Michael of the Sir Chocolate book series for young readers. How did that partnership come about?
Robbie: Between the ages of 6 and about 9 years old, Michael and I continued to make up Sir Chocolate rhyming verse stories from time to time. We would be doing something like visiting an ice cream shop and an idea would come to us. We would then chat about the idea and develop it into a story. Michael has delightful ideas like the chocolate snow and the ice-cream rainbow fairies who feature in Sir Chocolate and the Ice-cream Rainbow Fairies’ story and cookbook which will come out in 2020.
Kaye: What’s the one thing you hope your son takes away from this venture?
Robbie: I always hoped that Michael would become a proficient reader and learn to enjoy books and reading. It is not easy for a child who struggles to learn to read to develop a love of reading. I am very happy to say that this has happened. Michael now reads on his own for about 30 minutes a day. We often read together with me reading my book of the day and him reading his current story. Lately, these are all Rick Riordan books.
Kaye: What ages are the Sir Chocolate series aimed at?
Robbie: The Sir Chocolate books are aimed at young children, aged 3 to 9 years old. They are lovely for beginner readers as they are comprised of rhyming verse.
Kaye: Each book in the Sir Chocolate series features a story and a cookbook. That’s an interesting combination. Would you like to tell us a little more about why you chose to pair the two?
Robbie: Sir Chocolate is a little man made of sweets and sugar. All the characters in the books are made of edible products as well as all the houses, trees, flowers and even the rivers and the rocks. As all the illustrations are made of cake, biscuits and sweets, it seemed natural to provide the recipes to make some of the goodies in the book and make the books into a series of first cookbooks as well as a story.
Kaye: You also write supernatural and horror for adult audiences, and you had two stories published in the recently released horror anthology, Dark Visions. (See my review of Dark Visions here.) Another interesting combination: horror and children’s stories. Is there a story behind how you ended up writing in those two genres?
Robbie: I entered a short story for children in one of Dan Alatorre’s writing competitions and it won an Honourable Mention. I really liked the critique on my story that I received from Dan so when another competition cropped up a few months later I decided to enter. The topic for that one was horror so I thought I would give it a go. That was when I wrote The Willow Tree. Dan again provided an excellent critique in respect of the story. I entered The Haunting of William into his most recent horror competition in June 2018. That was how I came to write darker stories. I discovered that I enjoyed writing this genre and now I am writing a supernatural/horror YA book. I have just exceeded 50,000 words.
Kaye: I can think of many differences in writing horror and in writing for children, but are there also ways in which they are alike?
Robbie: The Sir Chocolate stories all have a villain ranging from the trolls in Book 1 to the candy stripped Roc in book 5. All stories generally have a heroic character and a bad character so there is a common thread between the two genres. The difference is that in the Sir Chocolate books the “baddie” is generally redeemed and becomes a contributing member of Chocolate Land. In my current book, the evil characters are not redeemed.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a horror story you’ve ever had?
Robbie: I have just written a horror story about cockroaches which infest a working microwave oven and gain unnatural powers as a result of the microwaves they are subjected to. I think that is about the most unusual story I have written to date but I have only been writing for just over two years and I only started writing horror this year.
Kaye: In addition to writing children’s stories and cookbooks, and adult horror, you write poetry. And you have a poetry collection out with Kim Blades, Open a New Door. What type of poetry can we expect to find in this collection? How did that collaboration come about?
Robbie: Kim Blades and I are both South African poets. Our collection is about life in South Africa and is divided into four sections entitled God bless Africa, God bless my family and friends, God bless me and God bless corporates and work. Each section is divided into poems about the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences in each of these areas of our lives.
Kaye: What is the most important quality in a poem for you?
Robbie: I like poems that are simply written and have a strong message. I try to write my poems along those lines. I don’t believe a lot of “highbrow” language is necessary in a poem for it to be an emotional and evocative piece of writing.
Kaye: You have another collaboration with Elsie Haney Eaton, While the Bombs Fell. It’s about life during World War II, which is quite different from the Sir Chocolate stories. What age audience is this book aimed at? Would you like to talk a little about it?
Robbie: Elsie Hancy Eaton is my mother and While the Bombs Fell is a fictionalized account of her early years growing up during WWII in a rural town in England. It features the deprivation caused by bombing and rationing and the other hardships experienced, but it also provides a lot of insight into the small pleasures people enjoyed during the war in the way of a Christmas pudding, the ingredients for which were literally saved up for most of the year, swimming in favourite spots along the river Waverney and learning to knit. The reason this account is fictionalized and not an autobiography is my mother was aged 4 to 7 years during the war and so she can’t remember all the fine details. I supplemented her memories with a lot of my own research.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?
Robbie: Marketing the books. Indie authors and writers with small publishers find it more difficult to get their books into stores and in front of the eyes of children. Children generally don’t use social Medias and, therefore, we are marketing to the parents and not to the actual child. Impulse buys are fewer as a result. I try to visit schools and Sunday Schools, but my time for these events are limited due to my work requirements.
Kaye: What other activities do you find time for when you’re not baking or writing?
Robbie: I am a qualified chartered accountant with a full time job and two sons. Any recreational time I have that isn’t spent with my family is used for writing, baking and blogging. I have two blogs, one for my children’s books, light poetry, baking and fondant art called robbiespiration.wordpress.com and one for my adult writing and darker poems called robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com.
Thank you so much Robbie for chatting with me here today. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to have you on board. I look forward to your Growing Bookworms blog series. I have no doubt that you have some interesting things to share with us.
Welcoming Robbie to the Writing to be Read team is my Christmas present this year, and adding her blog series will be a great way to start out the New Year, too. You can learn more about Robbie and her writing and art one her blogs or click on the links below:
Sir Chocolate book series: https://www.facebook.com/SirChocolateBooks/
Bake & Write: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/author/robbie-cheadle/
Or look her up on social media:
I hope all my readers will help me welcome this creative children’s author to the Writing to be Read team and be sure to catch the first segment of her Growing Bookworms series on January 9th.
Want to be sure you don’t miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
Ask the Authors (Round 2)
Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.
Building in Conflict
For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.
How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂
I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before. It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later. I have four methods (so far): 1) the character tries to do something but fails. 2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse. 3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong. 4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.
I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!
If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha. Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict. I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation. Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.
In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?
In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.
If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.
But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.
If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.
What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.
I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.
In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.
I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict
In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.
Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?
Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.
I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.
Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.
Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!
The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.
Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.
I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources. The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common. I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift. Here it is:
“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two. The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.
I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films. Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!
When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up
Editing and Revision
In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:
What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?
I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.
I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like. Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about. I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.
This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.
A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.
At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.
I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose. I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!
I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.
I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.
Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.
Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?
We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.
Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.
What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?
I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂
Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.
The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.
Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.
For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?
I’m still submitting to short story markets. I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me. Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions. Got 125 🙂 I don’t track the number anymore, though.
I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.
My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.
I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.
But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.
The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.
In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand. I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling. I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.
Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”
I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.
Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.
During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”
This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?
I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre. What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk. I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay. I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective. It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.
I use the same brand for each of my books. It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.
Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.
Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.
There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.
My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.
Still working on this.
If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?
Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.
I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.
Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.
They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.
Marketing is my biggest challenge.
Building Your Author Platform
Have you ever used paid reviews?
Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”
I used one company once. It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews. I got 1. After that, I never paid for another review company.
No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.
No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.
No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.
No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.
Two. I believe they are unethical.
Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.
I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.
My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book. Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.
In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?
A) They’re not really honest. B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.
The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money. I think the service I used cost $60. $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it. I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.
Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.
I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.
No author should have to pay for a review.
How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?
I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be. If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great. But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book. I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed. The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost. It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.
Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation. No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.
I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.
Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.
Not effective at all.
Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?
Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.
Here’s the interview: http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da
Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.
I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.
This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.
Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?
I use WordPress. The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough. The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!
I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want. I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky. It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look. Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!
I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.
I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.
I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.
Marketing and Promotion
Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.
Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?
I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers. The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market. The artists produced what I asked for 🙂 A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology. But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist. You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Tales, here.
My covers are all made by the publishers. I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.
I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.
Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.
I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.
I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.
Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.
I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.
A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.
My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0
I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.
This may be my favorite cover. I use my own photography and do all the design work. I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book. It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve. The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV. There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going? Where have they been? This is a very cool book cover.
I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.
Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.
I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.
All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.
Just for Fun
Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.
What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?
I often wear other colors than black?!?
That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.
I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.
I’m terrified of people in costumes. Think Minnie Mouse at Disney. If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.
I used to do fitness competitions.
I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.
I have five, yes, five boys. Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.
They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.
Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”
When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.” And I did!
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.
Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.
I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.
Workout, paint, relax.
Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.
Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.
If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂 But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.
Live in the south of France.
I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing. I hate sending him to daycare. I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures
Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.
I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!
I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.
What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?
That other people have valid internal lives of their own. That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂
To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.
To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.
I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!
I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Please send cheese.
The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)
I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.” I guess I’m yucky!
I’m a warrior.
Cheerful, busy, project-driven.
Deep, very deep.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?
It wasn’t phrased this way, but: “Make someone else make you fail.”
Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready? Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent? Terrified of indie publishing? What’s the worst that could happen? You could be ignored. Oh well.
Never give up trying anything new
Its okay to take a rest. People need to recharge their inner batteries too.
This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.
So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.
Go for it!
You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.
What makes you laugh or cry?
Everything. One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.
When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.
Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.
Cute animals do both!
I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.
What is your favorite food? Color? Song?
Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.
Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine
My favorite food right now is cheese, haha. I love the color black, with blue as a close second. My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive. It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.
Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown
Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.
Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.
Favourite Colour – Red and Black
Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean
Cheerios. Blue. Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.
In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?
[Glares at interviewer.]
I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.
That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.
Audio books (lol).
Sit in an urn on the fireplace.
See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!
Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.
This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments. Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.
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If you’re looking for Jeff’s Pep Talk, you’ll find his post next Wednesday. This week I wanted to let all my readers know about the Yuletide Jingle event on December 8th, hosted by Sonoran Dawn Studios. It’s going to be an audio event, with Christmas songs and stories intermixed with author promos. Of course, there will be games and giveaways, as well. Three authors will win cover art by Sonoran Dawn Studios. There will also be free books and other great prizes offered by the individual participants. It’s going to be a lot of fun. So click on the link below to reserve your spot and join in. Author Take Over slots are still available. I do hope I’ll see you all there.
We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out. Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.
I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.
Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.
The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?
1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends
2. Characterization is key
3. Have fun with world building
4. Think outside the box
5. And of course show don’t tell
1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.
1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.
2. Work on making the language sing.
3. Submit like crazy
4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.
5. Don’t ever give up!
One, be yourself. Write to please yourself. There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.
If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain. Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice. I pay special attention to writing my villains.
Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything. Emotion is the fuel of story. Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes. The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization. All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction. What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil. Things aren’t always simple.
A good book has three attributes. It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring. I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight. Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.
That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.
Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.
Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.
1. There ARE no rules.
2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.
3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.
4. If you truly love to write, never give up!
5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.
1. Write. Don´t stop.
2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.
3. Craft your stories.
4. Be humble. Be proud.
5. Keep it up.
P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living:
“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author.
- Never give up on your dreams.
- Write what you know. Write a book that you would want to read.
- Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
- Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.
The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.
The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?
Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.
Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.
Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.
Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling. Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles. You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation. If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught. Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable. So…be a psychologist.
Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).
Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.
Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.
Jordan Elizabeth: I rely on my own experiences when writing. Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart. If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud. If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.
DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion. You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”
If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.
Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.
The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.
Reader Ken Hughs said:
Lots of excellent advice there.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:
Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?
How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.
Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.
DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing. Huzzah! Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.
To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:
- Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers). When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.” Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project. Any element of a story can have pacing.
- Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
- The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
- I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.
Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?
Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.
Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.
Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.
Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies. They’re great for offering templates for action sequences. Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters. I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer. Does this look reasonable? Can my characters do this-and-that?
In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan. It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs. There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation. A mini-climax occurs early in the scene. But it doesn’t end there. A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers. Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears. The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold. This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.
Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.
Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.
Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.
Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.
Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write. I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind. Pacing falls naturally into place.
In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting, where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)
Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art Rosch, Chris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet Garber, Chris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.
I have two follow-up questions for this segment:
Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.
Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.
Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.
Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture. It takes money to market books. I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income. I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books. I did the same at Amazon. An author can publish digitally for free. I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.
I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon. I have no illusions about getting sales. I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.
Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.
Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.
Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.
Jordan Elizabeth: Both (except for Kistishi Island. I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print). I like having a combination of formats. Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook. I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems. Print books are great for book signings.
DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes. See writing rule #5. I really ought to be working on audio as well. Readers should be able to read conveniently.
Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.
Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.
Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.
Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great. There’s all the support and information you need. Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.
Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.
Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.
Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.
Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace. I can’t speak to the ease of use.
DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use. I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers? Are the readers happy with the experience?” Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers? Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting? Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”
Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.
In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.
For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform. Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.
The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?
Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.
Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.
Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault. I must have social media halitosis. There are billions of people who don’t know about me. I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet. I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox). That’s Mark Dawson. He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to. He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.
Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.
Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.
Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.
Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews. I haven’t had luck that way. I usually reach out to bloggers. Most of the time, they are willing to review.
Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.
DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely. I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model. What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table? Not as many as the authors themselves had brought. I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”
I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid. At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more. Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies. I have an ARC list. Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers. At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that. Go for it when you see it. But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.
In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.
The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?
Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.
So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.
Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.
Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.
Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.
Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events. The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents. Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts. Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation. You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.
DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople. I am not. That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything. I’m learning. But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se. If a sale comes out of it, great. And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!” To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things. Interesting things. Gossip. Rumors. Scandalous lies! And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk. I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down. That’s it. I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.
To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.
It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.
Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers.
Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.
Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!
I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.
Every year at this time I look back and so a review of what was published on Writing to be Read and my writing life. 2017 has been pretty eventful for both me and Writing to be Read, so this year I’m particularly excited about this look back. But, I’m also excited to get out my crystal ball and warm up my psychic abilities as we take a look forward that comes as we start the new year, because I think there may be some exciting things in store.
There were so many things that happened for me in 2017. In April, my western novel, Delilah was published by Dusty Saddle Publishing, which of course, is exciting. Delilah hasn’t done too bad on sales, but it didn’t make the best seller list. It has received some really excellent reviews, and is rated with four stars on Amazon. Although it may not be a huge success, for me it was a hard earned accomplishment, but the reward came the day I received my first royalty check. Yep, I’ve got royalties. Isn’t that the final proof that I’m a writer, at last?
I do have folks inquiring about a second novel, and for those who are wondering, Book 2 is in the working. My crystal ball tells me that it will be published sometime in the coming year, only this book, I may publish myself and skip the publisher as middle man. I’m having a time getting the sales data, and what I do have makes it appears as if what sales I do have, have been the results of my own marketing efforts, so I’m not seeing the benefit of sharing my royalties with a publisher, when I can do about everything they have done for me. In addition, mid-year the rather generic cover the publisher provided for the book was replaced by a cover that fits the story better, done for me by Sonoran Dawn Studios, which I am much happier with.
In addition I had two short stories published in 2017 by Zombie Pirates Publishing. The first, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” came out on August 1, in their science fiction anthology The Collapsar Directive. The story is a futuristic dystopian tale with just a touch of humor, in a world where productivity is high, but you’re only allowed to be happy on the weekend.
The second story, “The Devil Made Her Do It”, just came out the 15th of this month in their Crime Romance anthology, Relationship Add Vice. It’s a tale about the crazy things we do for love and a girl, Betty Lou Dutton, who leaves hereself open to be taken advantage of and ends up taking the rap. My fortune telling abilities see Zombie Pirates in my future for the coming year, as well. I submitted a little flash fiction story for consideration in their Full Metal Horror anthology. Wish me luck.
The really big thing that happened for me in 2017, or at least I think it’s big, is a landed an adjunct position teaching ENG102:Academic Writing at Western State Colorado University, my Alma Mater. Let me tell you, it has been a crazy ride. I got the position due to a last minute opening, when a scheduled lecturer was unable to teach for health reasons, which was unfortunate for the scheduled lecturer, but very fortunate for me. We got it all figured out and I was hired five days before classes started, so that’s how long I had to restructure both classes to be hybrid classes and figure out how to teach a method of writing I knew nothing about. It was a rocky start, and to be honest, I think I confused many of my students at first, because I was unsure myself, but as the semester moved forward, I gained more solid footing in the classroom, and the students began to figure it out, too. I have now successfully made it through a whole semester, teaching two hybrid courses and it feels great. I know I can do it and I have some experience teaching in a University setting, so I know there will be more teaching jobs in the coming year. My crystal ball is a little blurry in this area, but I know last minute stuff happens all the time, so who knows? Maybe I’ll end up back at Western.
As for Writing to be Read, I’ve had an exciting year there, too. At the beginning of the year, I my friend Robin Conley helped me do a total overhaul of the site, and in August my friend DL Mullan of Sonoran Dawn Studios helped to redesign it. The results are what you see here now, but they were a long time in coming. I’ve added my website right here on the blog and you can reach the different sections by clicking on the tabs across the top to learn about my published poetry and fiction, my westerns, my Playground for the Gods series, or Write it Right Editing. Writing to be Read also gained some great talent in 2017, Robin Conley with her Weekly and Monthly Writing Memos, and Jeff Bowles with his Pep Talks and his God Complex posts, and I am thankful for benefit of their content for the short time they were with me. Unfortunately, life carries folks in different directions and both of these fine writers are no longer able to share their expertise and wisdom with us and I don’t foresee them rejoining us in 2017.
What my crystal ball does show me, is that Writing to be Read has grown in readership over the past year, and I feel it is due to the great and consistant content posted not only by myself, but by Robin and Jeff, as well. Most recently, the content has been almost non-existant, because I’ve had to focus on the classroom and I’ve discovered grading essays takes a lot of time. I don’t think the drop in content from losing my team members or from my not having the time to devote that I should have hurt my numbers yet, but I do foresee such a possibility if the lack of content continues.
In this realm, my crystal ball shows me something very interesting. I see new members of the Writing to be Read team and really great content in the coming year. In fact, a call for action is going out with this post, right now. If you are a writer who feels you might have something to contribute and you’d like to be on the Writing to be Read team, I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com telling me what type of contribution you would like to make and how often you’d like to make it. I’m pretty flexible, so let’s talk.
In years past, I have given a rundown of all the posts throughout the year and which were viewed the most or which got the highest numbers of comments or likes, however that makes for a very lengthy, boring post, so this year I’m only giving you the most interesting facts. For instance, over the past year Writing to be Read has had viewers from the across the globe. The highest number of views coming from U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India and Mexico. It’s top referrer is Facebook, which doesn’t really make me happy, since I’m kind of peeved at Facebook at the moment, but I’ll take my viewers wherever I can get them.
The month to receive the most views was July, with my interview with writer, poet and cover designer Dawn Leslie Mullan being the hightest viewed post. Next up was a “Pep Talk” from Jeff Bowles, “I Think We Need a Break”, and third highest was my post, “An Adventure in Social Media Marketing“. The post that received the most viewed over the whole year was my post titled, “How Do You Measure Success?” which I wrote after signing the contract for Delilah. The second highest views overall were received by “Ah! Sweet Rejection“, which I wrote, oddly enough, after recieving a rejection for Delilah. The third highest was Robin Conley’s “Weekly Writing Memo: Word Choice is Everything“.
Looking ahead to 2018, my crystal ball says it’s going to be a good year. I hope it’s right. I guess only time will tell. So until then…
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