Sunday, August 27, 2006

Exhilirating new experience!

Nope, it doesn't have anything to do with writing, but at almost fifty, this is the first time I've had a dog to get sprayed by a fully-functional skunk. (I had a pet skunk once upon a time that was ALMOST descented, but that's another story.)

I was visiting my parents house, and took Buddy the World Champion Napdog along with me. Of course, he had to wander all around their property (about 22 acres) while I visited. Not long before I intended to leave, I noticed a faint skunky odor coming through the storm door screen. At first I was the only one to notice it, but then my mom smelled it, too.

I looked and there was Buddy, looking a bit shamefaced and stinking to high heaven. And I had to drive 10 miles with him in the Jeep with me!

I had no tomato juice at home, and in a very rural location, where do you find a quart or two of tomato juice at 10:30 PM?? I did find a can of V8 in the pantry, but pouring that on his head made him smell almost worse. After several washings, he's bearable, but I may try lemon juice or vinegar. (I'm guessing it's the acidity of the tomato juice that works the magic, but I don't know.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

For the Children...

I have finished selecting all the stories for the Christmas charitable benefit anthology Wolfmont Publishing is putting together this year, and it's a great lineup of stories! The title is BY THE CHIMNEY WITH CARE and it contains the work of nineteen authors: one poem and seventeen stories. The book will be, when all is said and done, about 208 pages of 5x8 trade softcover delight! All the stories within it are crime stories with a Christmas theme. (Before anyone gets on my case, I also put out the word that I would accept Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and even Saturnalia stories, but no one sent one my way before the book was full.)

Oh... what? Who's in it? Let's see... Jeffrey Marks, Neil Plakcy, Rob Rosen, John M. Floyd, Tony Burton, Margaret Fenton, Suzanne Flaig, Mike Wiecek, Carol B. Cole... quite a few very good writers, with some stories that run the range from chuckle-funny to wipe-a-tear-poignant to ghostly-spooky.

The book will be available for order directly from Wolfmont Publishing ( It will also be distributed through Ingram's and Baker & Taylor, and even possibly Amazon if they will reduce their cut because it's a charitable effort. When you start talking about the net proceeds going to Toys for Tots, and the distributors want such a large discount that there ARE NO net proceeds, it's sort of self-defeating to offer the book that way.

Anyway, when I have a cover shot available, I'll put one here. And when the book is available for ordering, I'll put that information here, too.

Shooting yourself in the... foot? Mouth??

Recently I received a "publicity" piece from an author, and it generated as much sympathy as it did less generous emotions. I won't identify the author, out of pity and the hopes the author will learn to do a better job.

In this piece, the author proclaims "I am a self-published author, so I have to do all my own promotion."

First of all, never, ever walk into a group of publishing or book industry professionals and proudly announce "I'm self-published!" It says a few things, mostly not complimentary.

First of all, it says you probably don't know what you are talking about. True "self-publishing" means you went to R.R. Bowker and purchased the minimum ten-ISBN block, established a relationship with a printer, and paid the printer to produce your book, carrying your own ISBN. Very few people do this because of the effort, time and cost involved.

What you probably did was to go to a subsidy publisher of some kind and pay them (or to Lulu, who gets their money in more subtle ways) to publish your book with their ISBN on the back. That is not self-publishing. It's subsidy publishing, often less kindly referred to as vanity publishing. "But my publisher said I'm self-published!" you may say. Think about that statement!

Here's your best test: IF you own the ISBN and are free to take it to another printer and use it on your book there, to produce the same book with the same cover, etc., but with a different printing company, then you are self-published. If you can't take the ISBN with you when you leave the printing company, then you aren't. Simple.

OK. I said "First of all," which implies there is a "Secondly," and there is.

Secondly, as unfair as it may be, being self-published is not a badge of honor in publishing and writing circles. Generally people assume, rightly or wrongly, if you had to self-publish your book or subsidy publish it, nobody else thought it was good enough to publish commercially. This does NOT include your Mom, your Aunt Mabel who always doted on you, or anyone like that. We're talking objective readers.

I'm not saying they're right. A number of famous authors self-published, or subsidy published, or whatever you want to call it. And some of those books actually attracted positive attention once they hit the streets! But the sad truth is, most subsidy published books are pathetic things. Their cover design is often terrible. Their editing is very poor or non-existent. Their authors are often laboring under the mistaken idea that, if they write the book, people will come to them to buy it.

A few months ago, before I was exposed to so many subsidy-published books, I became indignant when someone made snide remarks about them or their authors. "Such prejudice!" I thought.

I'm going to call subsidy-published-books SPBs from now on, because I'm lazy

Now that I've tried to read and review quite a few, I understand. Seldom does an SPB come across my desk that is worthy of the time to read and review it. That's so sad! Why don't the authors believe in the idea of getting an outside editor? Heck, I'm an editor with years of experience, but when I read my OWN work, it's darn hard to see the little errors that creep in. It's because I see what I expect to see instead of what is there. It is always easier to edit someone else's work.

And the covers! I've had a couple come in for me to read, where I swear the authors commissioned a local twelve-year-old to create the cover art using crayons. That's OK for a kid's book, but it looks tacky on an action-adventure-suspense book for adults.

Yes, there is a "Thirdly."

Thirdly, it doesn't matter if you are published by yourself, by PublishAmerica, by Wolfmont Publishing or by Tor Publishing (a big name in the SciFi arena), chances are you are going to do a lot of promotion. With the number of books hitting the market now, and with limited budgets because of constraints mandated by shareholders and/or bean counters, it's the rare author who doesn't have to do the majority of promotion for his or her book. There are some big names who get money shoveled in their direction to go on book tours and so forth, but the majority of authors invest both money and "sweat equity" into the promotion of their books, hoping for a return in sales and readership.

Lastly, everybody knows you think your book is great. Hey, if you didn't, why did you publish it? Get some objective outside opinions and use quotes from those to promote your book. If you can't get any positive ones, maybe that should tell you something....

It's great if you can get authors in the same genre, but if you don't know any (bad sign there!) get other professional opinions. If it's a medical mystery, get a doctor or two to read your book and give you a quotable opinion. If it's a police procedural, get quotes from a detective or cop. Get the idea?

If you are trying to promote your book, don't do the kind of things that will turn people away from your book before they even open it up! You may actually have a decent story in there, but if people won't read the book it won't matter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What can YOU tolerate in a book?

Some people and I have been having a debate lately about what sort of things, if any, will cause people to immediately put down a book and say something like, "Oh, I just can't read that!" Now, obviously really poor writing will cause this... but wait, what about Dan Brown? Oh, never mind that example. Let's just say what sort of scene or occurence in the story will cause the reader to stop reading.
I had a survey up for a couple of days, and I was pretty amazed that it took such a short time to gather over 100 respondents. But based on feedback from the respondents, I revamped the survey and re-ran it. I didn't get as many respondents this time, but I thought the results were still interesting.

It seems that a great number of people really could not care less if a member of the clergy is killed in a story, as long as it's "off camera". But the killing of a pet cat or pet dog raised hackles all down the line!

And a great number of people objected to the killing of a small child, or the molestation of a small child. The majority of people said they would not buy and/or finish reading such a book, even if it is one they had previously decided to buy and/or read. (The scenario was that they were standing in a bookstore or library and had already decided to get this book because they had previously read one book by the author and enjoyed it. They then flipped through the book and saw the scene described in the survey question.)

Now, because my publishing company publishes short stories and novels that are about crime, I guess it's sort of incongruous that I should even worry about these things. But I really do. I believe there are ways you can write a story about a crime, be it a murder, robbery, kidnapping or even a rape, that can make the book interesting and compelling without wallowing in the gutter. And I also believe that there are some crimes that are, at least by conventional American moral standards, so heinous and horrific that the majority of people don't want to read about them.

Sure, we KNOW that pedophiles are out there, and we KNOW that people kill their own children or other people's children, and we KNOW that people torture animals in horrible ways... but do we want to read about these things? I can't answer that question for you, I can only answer it for myself.

My answer is "no".

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Starting over... again

I almost decided that I'd just wipe out all the previous entries because, quite frankly, it has been so loooooong since the last one that it just looked pathetic. But I kept them, and here I am, trying to make a fresh start.

Had a meeting of our local writers' group tonight, and it was a good one. Small town, so an attendance of seven is a pretty good thing! We have some experienced writers and some pretty green newbies in the bunch, but we all contribute and I think it's an enjoyable time for all.

Do you belong to a writers' group? Or a critique group? If so, is it online or "real-world"? (Boy, THAT line is blurring, isn't it?) What are the strengths of your group? How about its weaknesses?

I'll tell you what I think our biggest weaknesses are: politeness and lack of self-confidence of some members. You see, we're in the South and most of us were reared to be "nice" to people. It's hard to give an honest critique sometimes, and remain nice. Sometimes you just have to say, "Wow, you really have an ugly baby there!"

The lack of self-confidence is a killer, too. We have some members who really have some wonderful stories inside them, because they can tell them and/or write them to bring to meetings. The problem is, they shy away from submitting them to any markets.

And here's a new market for you, if you write crime or mystery stories. It's a minimally paying market, quarterly ezine, and it's called Mouth Full of Bullets.

One of my very, very FAVORITE print markets for mystery and suspense stories is Great Mystery and Suspense. (I have a short story featured in their inaugural issue, by the way!) They, too, are a quarterly publication, although they publish both hardcopy and in electronic format.