Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What a Rip!

The appearance of another of my funny anecdotes lifted from my book without permission and circulated by mass e-mail this week without any attribution whatsoever prompts me to reprint passages from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers.

These excerpts are from my chapter, "Excavating Ethics."

"I fear that the general public and we writers are woefully uneducated about copyright infringements. Amy Cook, Writer's Digest legal expert, states that 'Original stories, poems and quotes are all copyrighted materials, whether they exist on a piece of paper or a computer screen. If you don't get permission from the people who hold the rights, then you're stealing their material.'

"Writers new to the field need to make themselves aware of the pitfalls and dangers of sloppy literary license. We may steal rights without even realizing it. Christians, in keeping with our goal to lead others to Christ by our living example, should hold the bar high in the realm of moral standards. "

"Written material on the web is not considered public domain. Using a reasonably sized quote is acceptable, but the source must be cited. Even paraphrased thoughts should include attribution so that the reader is not deceived into believing the thought is original."

So for crying out loud, let's not "borrow" material without giving proper attribution to the author, and the next time we pass on seeimingly harmless forwards of cute little stories with no mention of who wrote them, remember they had to come from somewhere.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small Press Options

One outlet for publication many authors don't consider is small presses. They start swinging away in big leagues (pitching to traditional publishers) and then if they strike out, figure there's no other option but to skulk back to the dugout and settle for self-publishing.

Wrong! (On both counts: I believe self-publishing may be the best option in some cases, and read on for another great idea!)

I was fortunate enough to have my first two novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails picked up by Vintage Romance Publishing, a small press from S. Carolina that at the time only dealt with clean romance-oriented historical fiction. VRP later started a non-fiction inspirational line (among other lines; check out their website) and accepted Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, the book that spurred this writer's blog.

The bottom line was: as an author, I was not ready for the big time publishers. It was an honor and a thrill to be accepted by any publisher who thought my work was good enough (with a bit of editing, of course) for print.

A thrill, incidentally, that sucks many novice authors into self-publishing. Some self-publishing companies or vanity presses don't advertise as such and the budding writer thinks they are submitting their masterpiece to a traditional press. They don't realize that everyone's work is "accepted" by these less-than-upfront companies until they are hit with a hefty fee.

Please note: legitimate traditional publishing houses and small presses DO NOT charge the author a penny! Their money is made only upon the sale of the book, which is why they're picky about which work they choose to produce.

In general (not true for every small press), small presses produce 12-30 novels each year, most with small print runs (ave. 5,000) or POD (Print on Demand). Most are trade paperbacks and graphics, cover art and editing is handled by the publisher. Translation: you don't have to seek your own editors or cover artists; they do it for you.

Several notable small press glitches: there is often no book distribution or marketing system in place, so that is left to the author. Get your running shoes polished up and ready to roll. Plus, if your book is POD, chain bookstores won't carry it and you'll have difficulty getting prestigious review sites to look at it.

But the good news: I was able to get my POD books in many gift shops, independent bookstores, and even some chain stores on consignment. And I found plenty of second-tier review sites who were happy to give me excellent blurbs for my PR notices and book cover. The average Joe doesn't have a clue about level A vs B publishers and reviewers; as long as you have a quality product, that's all they'll notice.

There are usually no advances offered by small presses, and royalty rates are relatively low compared to larger presses, but take my word for it, it's a great place to get your feet wet. Editors are motivated to help you and are intimately interested in the success of your book (because it's their bread and butter, too).

In my case (and that of many other authors with whom I've become acquainted), my small press books were an excellent hook for snagging an agent, who then was able to open the door to larger publishers and more lucrative contracts.

So when you're weighing your options, don't forget small presses! Sometimes ya just gotta knock a few grand slams in the minor leagues before you reach the majors.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Avoid the Dreary Query

Query letters are an essential element to getting your book/article noticed by the people who matter. The ones who make the decisions to publish or toss your agonized-over words carelessly in the slush pile . . . agents, editors and eventually publishers.

Don't take queries lightly.

Basically, a query is a 1-page pitch that should reflect the tone, content and your thinly disguised passion for your piece. It must display your writing skills (NO typos, use perfect grammar and punctuation, "show" don't "tell" by NOT stating the obvious, etc.) and in short, give the editor a juicy taste of the delectable fare yet to come when they request part or all of your manuscript.

Did you catch the part about passion? Very important: NO dreary queries.

You must stand out head & shoulders above the other hundreds of queries the agent scans that day - you have about 7 seconds to make your impression before she moves on to the next one. So without overstating your case ("This is positively the Harry Potter series!"), throw out your baited hook in the first sentence (the distinguishing feature of your book), include genre and title in the first paragraph, a brief bio in another paragraph (remember, this isn't about you, it's about whether your book is marketable or not) and exit your book description quickly by way of a clever but subtle cliffhanger.

The trick is to make her want more without appearing that you're trying too hard.

Spend hours, days, or even weeks reducing your story to one or two powerful sentences that will make the editor or agent sit up and take notice. Anything but brief is just plain grief to an overworked, underpaid agent or editor, so KISS (Keep It Short & Succinct)!

Be sure to address the recipient correctly (NO Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom it May Concern), include a SASE and NEVER utter the #1 novice faux pas: "I have written a fictional novel." You will get nowhere but the slush pile by repeating yourself. (Wouldn't that make a great name for a rock band: Repetitive Redundancy?)

You have either written fiction or a novel, not both. It's like saying I'm a female girl.

Remember, your book is judged by your query to determine it it'll ever get a chance to be judged by its cover. So make your query work for you rather than against you!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Misconception: Everyone Will Be Interested in My Book

An editorial by Irene Watson at Reader Views

Misconception: Everyone Will Be Interested in My Book

Why is this a misconception? The reality is you aren't writing the book to "everyone" or "general public" because there isn't such a thing. Think about it. Does every book in the book store or on Amazon appeal to you? If you answered no, it just proves that "everyone" or the "general public" isn't interested in every book - you are the "general public." If you answered yes, then you are in denial...big time. Ask yourself: Will left-wing politics appeal to me? Will horror appeal to me? Will poetry appeal to me? Will a novel appeal to me? And, so on. And, ask yourself: Will I buy this genre? It's doubtful you answered yes to each one, therefore you will not fit into the assumed category of "everyone" or "general public." I'm amazed how many authors actually think they write to the general public without giving it thought or research. These same authors attempt to market to the masses and in the end become very disappointed that the book isn't selling.

For example, just recently a reviewer brought to my attention that some of the content in a book didn't have upper case when it should have and considered this as an editing issue. When pointed out to the author he explained to me that his subsidy publisher rep suggested this type of writing because it was "hip" and follows the pattern of how texting is done. That's fine, however the issue was the book wasn't written to the "hip" generation - it was written for middle-aged men having relationship challenges. The other issue is the rep is obviously the "hip" generation and doesn't understand the importance of writing to the target audience. It was a bad match as well as bad advice. Just one issue, such as this, could create loss of the author's credibility with readers in what potentially could be a powerful self-help book.

The most important aspect of writing is to identify your audience before you start writing. (This is the same audience you will eventually market to.) Writing a book isn't just writing a book. I can venture to say most authors have never even thought of this aspect but it ends up being the most important. And, from some of the books we get in for review, I know the author hasn't given this any consideration and in the end is disappointed that the reviewer didn't flip head-over-heels about the book.

Let me give you some hints on what needs to be done. First of all, you need to be extremely specific on knowing who you are writing to before you start writing. Again, I repeat: before you start writing the book. You need to create a persona with demographics. For example, you need to know your reader's fears, hopes, attitudes, core values, emotions, lives, needs, desires, age, gender....basically, everything you know about your best friend. Why? you ask. The answer is simple: So you know who you are writing to! There is no other answer.

But, there is more. For example, if you are writing a non-fiction book you need to know how your reading audience absorbs information. Are they methodical and need hard data, logical presentation, and are detail oriented? Or are they spontaneous and are quick to make a decision, don't need hard data and want their problem solved this minute? Or are they humanistic and prefer to read stories of real experiences so they can relate or parallel? Or are they competitive and are success/goal oriented, highly motivated but require options?

As well as knowing how the target audience absorbs information, you as the author needs to know how the target audience reads. In the case of the middle-aged-men with relationship challenges I spoke of above, it is doubtful they would find much "hip" in lower case texting type of writing interspersed in the book. They probably want the facts and a quick fix and would find these editing issues a distraction, especially if they are the methodical type and want logical presentation.

If you have written a nonfiction book and didn't know which persona you were writing to it's a good possibility you've set yourself up for disappointment. Bottom line: You need to know who you are writing to.

But, this isn't only for nonfiction books. It's also important to create a persona and write to that specific audience when writing fiction books. And, again, I'm saying: There is no such thing as general public when writing a book.

Source: Reader Views

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reaching the Purple Mailbox: The Importance of Goals

About 8/10 of the way through this morning's run, I wanted to stop. I mean I really wanted to stop. My legs felt exhausted, my heaving lungs were throbbing and my muscles burned like little condos afire.

Everything about me screamed, "Stop! Just quit right now and this misery will end!"

But I didn't. I pressed on through even more exhaustion, throbbing and burning. Know why? One word: goals.

A month ago, after losing my second consecutive tennis match by running out of gas in the third set, I decided if winning in my chosen sport was important to me, I must do something to increase my potential to do just that: win. So improving my endurance to sail through three sets became my long term goal.

In order to achieve that long term goal, I set short term goals of: 1) Running 4 days per week, and 2) Start with half my neighborhood loop (about 3/4 mile) and add another block each week. I measure my distance by mailboxes as in, "I can't stop today until I get to the Smith's purple mailbox."

Sounds logical and achievable in theory, right? But when sweat starts to flow and muscles begin seizing in protest, the only thing that keeps me going is eyeing that purple mailbox in the distance and not allowing myself to cave - despite every atom in my body desperately trying to convince me otherwise - before I cross that self-imposed finish line.

My long term goal would end up as a dandilion in the summer breeze without those all-important short-term goals.

Such is the deal in our writing careers. Many of us have the long term goal of publishing a book, or X amount of articles, or just seeming our names in print. But have we spent sufficient time developing realistic short term goals to achieve that end? Goals such as writing 500 words a day, 5 days a week, or submitting one article each month, or attending two writing workshops this year to sharpen my skills so I get fewer rejections.

Reaching those purple mailboxes actually gives us a high. A sense of accomplishment. A boost in the ole self-esteem. We begin to think, "I can achieve this short term goal, and the next one tomorrow, too. And before I know it, that long-term goal that appears so far away today will be just an arm's length away. "

And once that long term goal is in the bank, it's time to set another. When I first started writing seven years ago, my long term goal was to see published during my lifetime one book of fiction and one non-fiction, and 20 articles. To my utter astonishment, that goal was achieved within two years, so I adjusted my goals to double that. Since my 11th book and 90th article just came out last month, it's time to tweak my goals again.

So that as a writer, I can, like you, keep running for those purple mailboxes.