Monday, May 31, 2010

Who Ya Gonna Call?

"What book surprised you recently?"

This is an easy one to answer: UNHOLY GHOSTS by Stacia Kane. Hands down. Before I dive into the "why's," here's the copy from the back cover:

"THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah."

One more issue before I start up with my "why's" -- I have not yet finished reading the book. However, I can honestly say, it's one that needs to be read.

When I first read this description a few months ago after hearing about the book from Stacia Kane's Twitter feed, I knew I had to read it. The first reason being it's set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world in which the dead have risen. (Not like Night of the Living Dead risen, but more like Ghostbusters risen...minus the giant marshmallow man.) I've always had a soft spot for post-apoc fiction and this rang a lot of bells for me.

The second reason I wanted to read UNHOLY GHOSTS is that the protagonist, Chess, is a drug addict. While I don't condone the use of illegal substances (and neither does the author, if I understand her Twitter feed comments correctly), I thought the concept of a character with this big of a flaw being the central "good guy" for not only one book but a trilogy was worth a read. And I'm oh so happy I took the chance.

While I've read plenty of books in which the villains were using drugs, I think UNHOLY GHOSTS is the first I've read in which the protagonist is the addict. It's a unique twist that in Kane's world works to severely hamstring Chess and yet offers so much potential for character growth in the next two books. The world Kane has created is gritty, dark, and unvarnished of the normal spit-shine given to many worlds, even including some post-apoc fiction. The characters aren't fully heroes but neither are they villains. They are simply, in my mind, ordinary people trying to survive in extraordinary circumstances and whatever helps them survive the day is fair game. Chess's drug use is no exception.

I had much the same reaction to Chess in the beginning as I did to Jude in Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX. I liked her on one level -- she is a kick-ass kinda gal, as proven in the first exorcism scene -- but I also didn't want to fully like her because of her biggest flaw, the drugs. But Kane's writing has sucked me into this gritty world and I keep coming back to it. The more I read of Chess, the more I like her. Even though her drug usage is substantial, I must admit it's very realistic. Speaking as someone who has seen addicts both in and outside of treatment, Chess's need to get her next fix is believable, and I applaud Kane for taking on a potentially controversial subject matter and twisting it ever so deftly to create what I believe is a stand-out novel in a market filled with flawed characters.

I came to UNHOLY GHOSTS with a fairly high expectations based on the pre-release hype I'd heard. So far, it hasn't let me down...which is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

Now go away. I'm want to finish reading. :)

-- Jeannie


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brass in Pocket


Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

If I won the lottery, would I give up writing? Hmm. Not before I wrote about the mathematical improbability of winning the lotto when I was a starving writer too impoverished to spend a dollar on a ticket. That one could end up as a doctoral dissertation worthy of the Nobel Prize for mathematics or as a headline for the National Enquirer. You have to love a story with such widespread appeal. But that digression doesn’t answer the question of the day. Would I, could I, should I, take my millions and do something else?

Oh, let’s be honest. Few writers make a living above the poverty line. Most of the writers I know who are able to devote themselves to writing full-time aren’t doing it because their books and short stories are providing for their families. Many rely on their spouses for income and many others call it full-time even if they are primarily responsible for child care, car pools, unpaid administrative support staff for family business and the like. I have a more than full time, sometime on the road day job and I write. If you threw kids into my mix, child welfare would get called. If we were in it for money, we’d go to law school. Wait a minute, I did go to law school. That explains that. I’ve been wondering. Res ipsa loquitor (I must have been paying attention during that law school class), a winning lottery ticket wouldn’t be the deciding factor in writing for me – or any other writer I know. Which is lucky since the odds of winning Megamillions are 1 in 135,145,920.

The lottery ticket, and this panel discussion, aren’t about the money either. They’re about the dream. And since this close your eyes and imagine doesn’t even cost the buck, I’ll go there. How would my life as a writer change if I won millions?

My first indulgence would be hiring a publicist/booker/web master/trailer designer phenom. I haven’t written the exact job description yet but you get the point. I would spend to be free of some of the many technical and non-writing business tasks that a) I don’t enjoy and b) I’m not that good at anyway. Funny how I stuck with indulging in writing related expenditures. I didn’t realize that’s where this blog was going. A better daughter would put buying her parents a house in a place she could visit them in the winter without freezing to death as number one. A better parent of a Labrador retriever would be hiring contractors to build a dog friendly activity play zone in a huge back yard. A better girlfriend would be on her way to Victoria’s Secret. Nope. I’m looking for a dogsbody with serious skills and a slavish devotion to all the things I don’t want to do.

Number two on my all about me lotto spree is the ultimate writing retreat. It’s a grown up version of a playhouse. In my mind’s eye, it looks like an English gingerbread cottage. I used to imagine it would be a gazebo and then I lost the romantic notion of shivering and fighting sideways rain during February. It’s close enough to walk to from wherever I’m living which seems to matter less than the environment in which I am creating. The one-room with woodstove retreat has comfortable chairs, a pedestal table with chairs and super fast WiFi. For reasons that elude me, I can see a loom in one corner. That must be for ascetic reasons. Naturally, there’s a bathroom with a steam shower and a Jacuzzi tub. I may not spend my millions on a kitchen I consider ornamental, but I’m big on the hydro-comforts. And it’s not like I can’t afford them with my win.

I’d spend more of the money going places, taking classes and living life. All of which would make it into new stories, both fiction and non-fiction, and new writing challenges. I’ll have to ask that new tax accountant how much of this dream is deductible.

P.S.
In 1921, according to his tax returns, F. Scott Fitzgerald earned $24,000. He published This Side of Paradise a year earlier. On a relative basis, he maintained or exceeded that income until his death in 1940. Today’s equivalent of his earnings from that year? $500,0000. The tax rate at that time was 5% so many more of those sawbucks stayed close to home. After hitting the literary lotto in 1921, Fitzgerald went on to write four more novels, more than a hundred short stories and contributed to numerous Hollywood scripts, including Gone With the Wind. Apparently he didn’t write for the money, either.
Thanks for reading.

Gabi

Saturday, May 29, 2010

If I Were a Rich Man

By Michael

If I won the lottery, would I quit writing?

(a) No, but I would buy a nicer computer and hire servants to bring me iced drinks, massage my feet, and take care of all of my other whims.

(b) No, but I would hire James Patterson to write my books.

(c) No, like all the other guys who win thirty million dollars but say they’ll keep pushing the mop, selling cigarettes to minors, or schlepping in whatever particular ways they schlep, I would promise to keep my fingers on the keyboard.

(d) Hell, yes.

(e) I don’t know.

I would like to say, none of the above. I would like to say that writing for me is something that I just must do, the way that migratory birds are compelled by an internal force to fly south in the winter and squirrels are compelled in the spring to do that ridiculous chase-each-other-around-the-tree thing.

But the real answer for me is (e) I don’t know.

I mean, I like the money that I make from writing. Even if it’s not a lot, it helps my family live better. But I also wrote before my writing gave me an income, and that means my writing isn’t only about the money, and so I have no reason to think that I would stop writing if I were super-rich and no longer needed the cash.

If not for the money and not to satisfy a hardwired need, why do I write?

That’s easy. Sex. Writers have lots and lot of sex.

No, no, we really don’t, or if others do, they haven’t told me how their writing gets them laid. As for the rest of us, some of the times when we probably should be having sex – late at night when everyone else is in bed – we’re tapping the computer keyboard.

No, I write for the same reason that I read: I like the thrill of the story – a different thrill from that of sex or from making a lot of money, though all three are nice.

So, would I stop writing if I won the lottery? Only if the pay off from having a lot of money satisfied parts of me that I don’t think it would satisfy. From the outside (which is to say, from my economically middling circumstances), the question seems kind of silly. It’s like asking, Would I stop having sex if I won the lottery. My answer to that one would be clear. Hell, no Just the opposite: from what I've heard, rich people get to have a lot of sex.



Friday, May 28, 2010

Cause That's How I Roll, Baby

By Shane

If I was at rich as Scrooge McDuck ...



... as King Midas ...



... as Donald Trump ...



... and Bruce Wayne put together ...




... yes, I would still write ...


... because as long as there are heroes to admire ...


... genuinely rotten people to defeat ...



... dramas to unfurl ...


... laffs to let out ...



... and cries to make the world weepy ...



... I cannot help myself. I will write. I must write. No matter how high the obstacles, no matter small the prize, I ... will ... write ...


... because that's how I roll, baby.




Happy Friday.








Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mega-Buck Dreams

Dianne Emley, here. I’m your guest Blogger today! Thank you, wondrous Criminal Minds for allowing me to post on your space. Special thanks and massive hugs to Kelli Stanley for donating her Thursday post day!

Comment to enter to win a copy of Love Kills. On Saturday, May 29, I'll randomly pick one of the commenters on my post to receive a signed book.

So, if I won the lottery, would I quit writing or change how or what I write?

I second what C.J., Rebecca, and Graham have already eloquently said on this topic. I am a writer. I can’t excise or exorcise that part of myself. After all, I named my Blog: I Write Therefore I Am.  

My answer to the first part of the question, would I quit, is nope. Wouldn’t quit, because I can’t.

Would a stream of endless big bucks change what I write? I’m already writing what I want to write. I love crime fiction. My answer to the last part of the question is, nope again.

Now, the murky middle. Would I change how I write? Money wouldn’t change my writing style, but change of location, setting, toys… Yep. In a New York minute. Let’s start with that private island in the Caribbean and let your mind wander.

Before we hop on my Gulfstream jet, let's first be practical. I could use a personal assistant to help me run this writer’s life of mine. Actually, I sort of have an assistant. His name is Sam. Here he is helping me with editing.


Sam is awfully cute and in the unconditional love department, he’s hard to beat. But he’s not too great at running errands. I’ve tried to teach him to drive, but it just won’t take. I need an efficient, professional manager who's not just effective, but who also has a bit of Sam's loyalty. Sort of a Mr. French with an MBA.

The first thing I’d like my manager to do is to hire a bunch of smart, hard-working folks and set them up in a nice office. My manager will know how to contact me on my Caribbean island, where I'll be working on my new book and maybe indulging in an occasional mai tai.


Next, my manager will tackle marketing, because how my books are marketed is another “how” that would change in the shiny, rich, blue sky writing world of my dreams. We’re talking first class, major author, full on marketing machine, baby. If it promotes my books in a fabulous way so that every book lover at least knows about them, I’m investing in it.

You see, there’s another aspect about being a writer for me--I want my stories to be read. Even if royalty checks are out of the equation, I’d like my books to find their audience, whatever size it may be. I’m not there yet.

I think all of us writers who either are published or want to be have a craving to have our works read by others. That’s why we went down this public path rather than squirreling our manuscripts away in dusty attics. What do you think? Are we writers addicted to that little burst of love or ego gratification that comes from knowing that your book is being read and enjoyed?

The moral of this story is, money would change how I go about the business of writing. As far as the writing itself, no changes there. Being paid to do what I love is priceless.

Don't forget to comment to enter to win a copy of Love Kills.

About my books--I write the bestselling Detective Nan Vining series. The fourth, Love Kills, is just out. "Emley masterfully twists, turns, and shocks."  --TESS GERRITSEN. 

The third, The Deepest Cut, was just released in paperback. "Relentless suspense... Compelling characters... A supremely satisfying read."  -- Booklist (starred review)

The other books in the series are The First Cut and Cut to the Quick.DianneEmley.com

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If I win the lottery...



... I seriously hope not to end up like Hurley on Lost... (Great show by the way - I must bid it goodbye)


Actually there's not much I can say that would be any different from what Rebecca and CJ said. So I'm going to go a little off topic here . To some extent I honestly felt like I won the lottery the day my agent said we've come to an agreement with Random House.

It's not like it was a million dollar contract or anything but it meant two things: 1 - Apparently I wasn't crazy to think I could be a writer, and 2 - I now had the JOB - I'd always wanted. They say do what you love and the money will follow - here's to hoping "they" are right.

So, for me, the question is not what would you do after winning the lottery, but what DID you do after winning the lottery?

Assuming there are some readers of this blog who are not YET published and wonder what happens once you do get signed - here's how it went for me.


Agent: Hey - we got a deal. Congratulations.

Me: Awesome - now what?

Agent: They're going to get back to us with a contract and notes for the re-write on the manuscript.


I'll tell you this- it couldn't have been more than a month before I saw that contract - but it felt like 7 years in purgatory. (Is that another Lost reference - who knows for sure.)
So the contract arrives - just like she said it would and then my Editor and I discussed the manuscript. Here's the part I want you to be prepared for. This work you have slaved and toiled an polished for years is probably going to need some augmentation. Maybe even - Pamela Anderson type of augmentation. Its weird - they love it - they just you paid you a bunch of money for it - but they need you to make a bunch of changes.

Grrrrr.....

So you do it, and after all the work - you look at the new book - and like Pamela Anderson - its now really ready for prime time. (To our female readers - just think of the transformation Brad Pitt underwent from Cool World to Troy) - that's what they want you to do with your book.

And they're right - in one sense, there is no such thing as good enough - but in the publishing reality there is a moment when the curtain has to go up, and they want your work to be stunning when the lights go on.

Dive in with everything you have. If your editors are like mine you will find their insight to be annoyingly brilliant. So get in there and buff and polish and re-write until you're just making changes for the sake of making changes - that's when you know its done.

So now your editors REALLY love it. They send it off to production and you pat yourself on the back and get ready for a long vacation with this lottery money and they remind you that, by the way, you have a proposal for book two due in a few weeks.

Grrrr......

No problem, you say. I'm ready to conquer new mountains. Only thing is - you go to start writing and you draw a blank. I don't mean a writers block blank, you can still compose great scenes and witty dialogue. I'm talking about a - "How the hell did I do this the first time", kind of blank.
I think I figured out where this feeling comes from - because I certainly didn't remember it happening the first time around. But the truth is most of us live with that first book for three or four years before even going after an agent. And even though I wrote other stuff in the mean time, this was the one. Now, having to come up with another ONE, I can't honestly recall working on something that was not fully fleshed out already. I might be taking huge sections out and adding blocks here and there but the frame has been in place for a long time.

So you stare at the blank page, pen or pencil in hand (I always start long hand - because doodling actually helps my brain to work.) But this time you keep staring and you wonder. Having thoughts like - what is the sound on one synapse firing? (I don't know because none of them are.) And if a book fell in the woods - and no one was there to scan it - would I get a commission off that sale?


But finally, you start to write the first scene. "It's a first draft" you tell your self (not remembering what the first draft of the first book looked like because you've been working on what was basically a completed book for at least two years now.) And somehow you get it done.

Scene two - or chapter two - is just as painful. EXCEPT - it actually gives you a tiny little idea of how to amp scene one up just a bit. - You scribble furiously.

Chapter three - enter the villain - How do I avoid making this guy Dark Helmut from Space Balls???? Not sure - but if he is motivated in a certain way - it ties in with the hero's motivation later on and now you've got some synergy.

And suddenly it's like a freight train picking up steam - except I think they are all diesel powered now - but you get the point. And your typing and thinking and scribbling notes as you drive because you don't want to forget that amazing idea that just popped into your head - the one that will put some serious mojo on the cross mojinization of the whole shag-adelic creation.

And suddenly you wonder why it took you all those years to get that first one done to begin with.

So this is what I've learned about winning the lottery - there is no winning - you earn it, even after you've "won" it, you have to keep earning it every day. But that's okay, those are good odds. A lot better than you'll get on the powerball. They work for me.

Graham Brown is the author of Black Rain, a thriller combining the search for Cold Fusion with the creation legend of the Mayan people. Black Sun, his second book comes out in August and is available for pre-order now. He thinks if you like the TV show LOST - you will like these novels. He is currently alone in his office, working on his third book and pressing a button every 108 minutes.






If I Win the Lottery

"If you won the Lottery, would you quit writing? If not, would the guaranteed income change how and what you write?"




by Rebecca Cantrell



Quit writing when I finally had the money to not worry about how I’m going to subsidize my next book? Are you crazy? As a writer in the current economy, it's hard not to worry about money.

But I don’t write because of invisible dollar signs. I write because of invisible voices in my head. I write because I am a crazy obsessed person who can’t stop writing. I wrote for years before I even thought to send something out to be published. Being published was the lottery. And I won it and I love it. I think it's easy to get caught up in worrying about the money and the numbers of books sold (things largely outside our control) and forget about the pure joy of writing.


Don’t get me wrong. If a big pile of money comes out of this whole writing thing, just like the next writer, I will install a pool in my basement full of gold coins and swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck. Although I might have the coins sanitized first because who know where they’ve been.


But even if I had that big pool of germ-free coins, I wouldn’t write anything different. I already write just what I want to write. I don’t try to make it more or less commercial. I write to tell the absolute best version of the story that I can. Period. I hope that publishers will publish it. I hope that readers will enjoy it. I hope to always get a huge thrill when I see a book with my name on the cover right there in the bookstore for anybody to just pick up and buy.


But this does tie in nicely to last week’s question. What would I do with all that money? I would use it to write more. I would hire someone else to clean my house. I would hire someone else to update my web site. I would hire someone else to book my travel, return my library books, book my blog tours, mow the lawn, and drop things off at the post office.


In fact, the imaginary personal assistant I would hire to do all this is named Kevin. I know, other people have imaginary friends. Bucko, I have plenty of real friends, but no real personal assistant. Not yet. When I hit the lottery, I’m hiring him. I don’t know who he is, and he might be a woman, but his/her name while working for me will be Kevin. Every day I make lists of things for Kevin to do. Every day I have to do all those things myself. But if I win the lottery, Kevin will start work.

Kevin, what numbers do you think I should play this week? Remember, your job is at stake…

Monday, May 24, 2010

Luck of the Draw

"If you won the Lottery, would you quit writing? If not, would the guaranteed income change how and what you write?"

I don't think the question is "would" I quit writing, but rather "could" I quit?

The answer is no. Not even with the help of a Twelve-step program. Writing is an addiction—I don't just want to write, I need to write.

It's how I cope with the world, how I explore new ideas, make sense of the daily insanity that surrounds us all.

Not going to give that up any time soon! Not if I want to stay sane--okay, that's up for debate, maybe I should say "stay as sane as I am now." (Stop laughing, Shane! You too, Kelli!)

Would I write differently if I was financially secure? Never thought of that before, but you know, I think I might. Buy a place with an ocean view, write while staring out at dolphins frolicking in the water….yeah, that'd make a neat change of pace.

Or maybe learn to write while traveling all over the world, staring out at different dolphins frolicking in different oceans….oh, and cabana boys, lots of cabana boys….

But the topics I'd write about? They'd be the same—although with no financial need to earn income, I could maybe take more chances at less mainstream, commercially-viable work, not worry if it sold or not….

Although, honestly, that's pretty much my approach now. I'm a pretty fast writer, and if I have an idea I really want to explore, I'll write the book even if it doesn't seem marketable. I write first for myself, second for my readers, third for the income stream.

How would the work of famous authors depending on their writing for a living be changed if they were financially secure?

Would Charles Dickens be less wordy, learn to slice and dice his drafts into lean, taut narratives?  Would Emily Dickinson be less suicidal—and would a cheerful Emily create poetry that stirred the soul and lives on through the ages?

What do you think?  Would we have lost out on greatness if all writers were financially stable?

Thanks for reading,
CJ

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels and has been called a "master of the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine). Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth book, CRITICAL CONDITION due out December, 2010. CJ's newest project is as co-author of the first in a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to http://www.cjlyons.net



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Funny Business


Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

Do I like doing all the marketing and social networking required to be a successful modern author? At first I thought this question was rhetorical. I am, after all, s socially-inhibited introverted troll who needs a week of rewrites and an editor to sling a pithy comeback. I write in my pajamas sporting Don King bed head. I see my neighbors crossing the street to walk their dogs (which I somehow fail to causally connect with the evil laugh I am rehearsing to resolve the onamotapaiec challenge in my next scene) and instinctively cast them in the role of stalked prey. That this intellectual leap on my part is readily identifiable and will rationally lead them to mention me as the pj psycho to their police officer brother-in-law eludes my native intelligence. Turns out, that blind spot is located where my marketing gene should be.

Now, not all authors suffer from my genetic dysfunction. Some of the non-fiction authors, for example, are relentless self-promoters and it has lead to fame and riches. Yes, Ann Coulter, I am talking about you. I may not agree with her about, well, anything, but I recognize that she knows and is willing to do anything to sell her books. Her editors and publishers probably adore her. She makes herself available to huge crowds and there isn’t a microphone she won’t lunge for. Even if I could fake that enthusiasm, I wouldn’t. My numbers aren’t as big and I’m sure there are business people who would tell me to check my personal issues at the door, but then my idea of marketing may not match the textbook definition.
Gabi’s marketing 101 is to remember why I write in the first place and not forget it when the business side takes center stage. I want people to read my books. I want to entertain. I want to challenge. I want to open the door for anyone willing to overlook my innate anti-social writerness and felony fashion choices to engage with me. Whether it’s on the internet, at a conference or at my dentist’s office, I’m not marketing to potential readers. I’m talking to them. Not to them, with them. I like to hear what they think about my books even if it’s not religious devotion to my point of view. My marketing technique may not lead to action figures or fast-food tie ins, but then my potential readers aren’t marketing targets. They’re would-be friends of mine and my characters. I once asked one of the staff at Seattle Mystery Bookshop why then never went to the conferences. His answer was he couldn’t find a recommend a new author to someone he didn’t know and would never get a chance to know. How could he do his job if he couldn’t build a long-term relationship? There’s a reason that bookstore played such a big role in putting both of my releases on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association best seller list. They never think of it as marketing. They think of “the necessary evil” as a chance to make new friends and to share their loves, their passions and their adventures from the comfort of their arm chairs. I’ve adopted their approach as my own and when I focus on that, the business number crunching and personality challenging stresses recede. I would gladly hire someone to do the paperwork, to keep the website up, to send press releases and organize signings but in the end, despite my personal need to hide in my room and write, I need to be the one there, present, to have the conversation that will lead to the lifelong friendship and support that readers offer so generously.

Social networking is a little different. I’m a technophobe. My website has had rheumatism for more than a year. People actually look for my picture (I am so not photogenic) on Facebook and tweeting still sounds like something I shouldn’t mention in mixed company. It is a way to reach a lot of people to let them know you are out there in the universe but if there’s a way to genuinely connect that way, I can’t seem to lay my hands on the manual. Then again, I am working on a YouTube video trailer. It may never come to anything but it gives me a rationale for trying to get my dog Koko to remember her lines and hit her marks. I don’t see an Oscar in her future. The blog is different. I met a bunch of new people here who take time to send me emails and comment on these posts. There’s something magical about that. It’s almost like standing in the doorway to my troll cave and yelling ‘Is there anybody there?’ With the blog, someone always seems to yell back. I’m not offended if it’s only ‘Shut up. Can’t you see I’m reading?’

I hope you are.

Gabi

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Social Kind of Gal in a Social Kind of World


I overheard two women at the pool griping about Facebook in the locker room. “Who cares what people have had for lunch?” one said to the other. “Strangers are not your friends,” complained the other. “And Twitter is even worse!” I wondered if either one of them had tried the sites, or just disliked them on principal. Every new advance has its naysayers. I’m sure people complained about the telephone (it’s not like being with someone, you can’t see the expressions on their faces!) and email (no one will ever write a letter again!), but the truth is if the new things were less convenient we probably all wouldn’t be doing them.

I resisted Facebook for awhile (and email back in the day) because I didn't get why it would make my life easier. But all in all I’m a social kind of gal. I like parties, I like to chat and I like to hang out. The computer is a little less friendly, but I’m happy to be able to keep up with friends in far away places. There were plenty of people from high school and college that I had lost track of, and I’m happy to hear what they’re up to. I keep up with people I met recently at conferences, and love hearing about their book deals and other writing triumphs.

The biggest problem, as so many have stated so eloquently right here, is that it’s difficult to find time these days to do a writer’s main job – writing books. We write blogs, we write emails and we write updates on sites, and that takes away from the time we have to write books. Or be with family. Or exercise. Or sleep. So what’s the solution?

There is none that I can see. Cold turkey means cutting ourselves off from our social networks, and from fans. I've definitely found new readers through social media and sold books to people I've never met (without burning any gas). But moderation is definitely the key. You can easily spend a whole day tweeting or checking Facebook updates, and never get any writing done. So I ramp up my participation when I have news to share (to avoid accusations of sharing my breakfast choices), a book to promote, or events to invite people to attend. And I dial it all back when I need to finish my book. After all, without the writing, we would have nothing to promote.

So friend me on Facebook, follow my tweets (and I'll follow yours), but don't get offended if I occasionally wander off. I'll be back -- hopefully with a new book to share.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Taking a Whiz on Book Marketing . . .




By Shane

I always liked Cheez Whiz.

It's just that we call it "book marketing" now.

You remember Cheez Whiz. The sorta-food that looks suspiciously like cheese but you know it can't be cause it's yellow as a plastic banana?

Yeah. That stuff. What Wikipedia calls, "a thick processed cheese sauce or spread sold by Kraft Foods. It was first marketed in 1953. The bright yellow, viscous paste usually comes in a glass jar."

Yummy! And about as nutritious as eating your own hair clippings.

That's how I think of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, author polls, games, and all the other fangle-dangly stuff we loosely describe as book marketing. (As opposed to Facebooking and Twittering to keep up with family and friends, which is a noble pursuit worth doing and well, as you can't have too many real bonds.) That "please be my friend" stuff is the writer's equivalent of eating Cheez Whiz. It's fun, it's tasty in a slightly off sort of way, and you can pretend you're eating real food. But eat too much of it for too long to the exclusion of meat, grains and vegetables, and you die fat, lonely and occluded.

Here's why you need to eat Book Whiz in small doses: because nobody really knows what works in selling books. We speculate and guess and conjecture and hope and burn tons of money and brain cells and then rain-dance to the gods of Sweet Jesus, No Returns This Time, but we don't know. If we did, we'd all have James Patterson sales. We don't. So, to spend a buncha time, effort and money on flashin' and grabbin' for eyeballs in hopes of sorta-maybe sellin' a book to some nice old lady you don't know in Webville is a fool's errand. We need to write. We need to tell stories. We need to create memorable characters and give them fascinating things to do. That's what gets us noticed, cause that's what readers want. And cherish. And love.

As do we.

So Facebook/Twitter/Social Networking/Who's Your Favorite Beatle? with the sole purpose of selling books? Sure, go ahead. It's fun and occasionally interesting. (Ringo Starr!) But just a few bites, please; leave the rest on your plate. Mom lied when she told you about the Poor Starving Children in China. They won't eat that stuff either.

WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU?

I know, Debbie Downer. If I'm so smart, how come I'm not telling you what does sell books?

See above: Nobody knows. And I know less than that. But I do have marketing-related loves that aren't Butt In Chair Typing Manuscript. They are:

Essays.
Blogging.
Book videos.

I love them, and find them utterly important to my success. Cause they pour gasoline on my creativity. They're kindling for the logs that become my real fire: novels.

I adore conversing with people through essays. (Blogs are just essays with designer clothes.) These little CM ditties, for instance. Once a week I get to tell you about something I find important and/or interesting, hopefully with a bit of grace and humor and style. (And the occasional cheesy video.) I like writing these essays, and I try very hard not to blow them off. They do take time, no question. I don't care, it's worth the investment. Why?

Because they're go-potion for my brain.

For me, writing begats writing begats brain stimulation begats more writing. I think with my fingers. Honest to God, if I sit quietly and pontificate about Something, my butt in a lounger and index finger on my temple, I can't think of anything. I'm bored. Start typing an essay, though--like this one--and immediately I'm dreaming up three dozen story ideas, visuals, characters, names, and what do I want for lunch tomorrow. It all bubbles into a rich un-whizzy gravy that bathes my creative side.

Which turns into real books.

I like book videos for the same reason. Not watching them--after awhile they all start to look and sound alike--but producing them. I don't have the technical skills to actually put them together; I leave that to folks who do it well. (The other day I tried burning a paperback in front of my videocam to illustrate the concept "hot writing." Good concept, but deep-fried-UGLY as a video. Plus the driveway smells all gasoline-y now . . .) But I love thinking them out. Writing the scripts. Deciding which voice will do the audio--male, female, child? Old, young, middle-age? Humorous, serious, nasal?

Most of all, I enjoy figuring out how to say it all in 30 seconds or less.

People don't like having their time wasted. Whether I'm providing just the facts, ma'am, riffing on music, poetry, books or politics, or discussing how "fuck" can be used as noun, verb, adverb, adjective and maybe even a gerund if I knew what the fuck that was--people want me to get to the damn point. They want to be entertained and amazed along the way, certainly, but they don't want me taking forty-eight miles of bad mountain road getting there. They want me to figure out the heart of my story, put it up there, and let them have at it.

So they can fall in love.

Coalescing a 400-page manuscript into 30 shining seconds of air time forces me to find the real heart of my story: the emotion. The real reason readers will care so much about my characters that they'll forget to breathe for just a moment. The real reason all of us write: to make that magical connection.

Something that Cheez Whiz will never, ever do.

Even if it's atomic yellow.

Oh, and that fuck-stuff I mentioned?

Best scene EVER using only the f-bomb. Here it is in all its naughty glory, from the television show The Wire:



Happy Friday from me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Which I Pitch a Hissy Fit About Marketing


by Bill

Do you like doing all the marketing, social networking, etc.?

This one is easy. No.

I mean, Yes.

I mean. Oh, bother.

Here's the thing. I've long felt marketing was one of those unseemly things we do which, while arguably necessary at times, is never something to discuss in polite company. It's like describing one's bowel movement at a dinner party. Seriously, save it for the doctor's office.

"And yet," you say (imagine your own voice), "Bill, I see you nattering on Twitter all day long like a nattering natter-monkey. And sometimes you post links in a self-promotional and/or marketing-y way. Surely this is in conflict with whatever it is you typed above."

Yes, it is. That is because I am a man Twisted by Paradox. And/or wishy-washy.

It was way back in Ye Olde Olden Tymes—my college days—that my deep and abiding crabbiness toward Marketing was born. I attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (no, not in Florida), which had recently been declared a "public ivy" by U.S. News & World Report because it had a strong business school. So the campus was filled with all these smug business majors and ruled by Baron Finance Professor and Duchess Accounting Professor and, of course, Lord Tyrant Marketing.

Gah, I wanted to throat-punch the lot of them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, when it came time for me—creative writing major—to get a job, guess what I found myself doing? Yeah. Marketing.

Which I have been doing for the last … twenty … five … years.

So.

Maybe I have a bias.

Personal feelings about marketing aside, I'm not naive. Obviously I would like to find readers. One doesn't work in marketing for twenty … five … years (sigh) without learning you don't reach an audience through dumb luck. Unless you are Justin Bieber. You have to make a targeted effort. You have to learn who the potential audience is, what kinds of messages it will respond to, where those messages need to be in order to be seen, etc.

Which actually brings up a problem with book marketing in particular. It's driven almost exclusively by two things: anecdote and just-do-everythingism.

Anecdotes typically fall into the "omigawd Random Bob did this and made a million dollars and if you don't do it too you will fail because you are insaaaaane" category. They are the functional equivalent of Homer Simpson telling Marge the reason he has to catch the giant catfish is because those weirdos down at the bait shop said so. But we take these anecdotes seriously because, you know, some weirdo on the internet said so.

But in a way, getting our marketing techniques via anecdote is relatively harmless. You read a blog post and you try the "surefire" technique, and it either works or it doesn't. But if it didn't take that long or involve much grief, c'est la vie.

The Just Do Everything approach to marketing is far more insidious, because it demands huge investments of time and money with little evidence any of it actually works. Of course, evidence is beside the point, the argument goes. If you "just do everything," something is bound to work. And if it doesn't, it's your fault because you didn't do it right.

I don't know if marketing is taught this way today, but back in my public ivy days, the smug marketing majors used to talk about this thing called metrics. The way it works is you build up a body of data on the effectiveness of various techniques and when the data doesn't support a particular approach, you don't use it. And when you don't have data for a new approach, you set up tests and build a dataset before you go all in.

This isn't easy, nor is it guaranteed. Marketing is by necessity a fuzzy endeavor, involving as it does statistics and the ever-changing vagaries of consumer whim. But even a fuzzy discipline has a little rigor here and there. And yet, near as I can tell, that rigor is pretty much ignored when it comes to book marketing. ("If you don't do what Random Bob did you're insaaaaaane!")

Those weirdos down at the bait shop are not a dataset. They are a data point, and not a particularly rigorous one. (What's the control?) A blog post is also not a dataset. Nor are a single author's success or failure self-publishing to Kindle, or blasting the Twitterverse twenty times a day with a link to his special offer, or blogging her hangnail surgery.

And a person who spends 90% of his time on all manner of blatant and noisy self-promo isn't an author, he's a marketing drone who may occasionally write something.

So what am I up to on Twitter and on my website and, well, here? That stuff's marketing, right?

Here's my answer, the result of a rigorous testing regime which featured controls and focus groups and exit interviews, and which produced a prodigious mountain of data I analyzed in great detail whilst finishing a beer a few minutes ago. (Okay, the focus group was me, and the test subject was me, and the control was my cat, who is looking at me right now like I'm a huge disappointment.)

I do what's fun, tempered by not doing the things which annoy me or which I can't afford.

That's it.

So. I natter on Twitter with my friends. When I have a piece of genuine book-related news, I share it, but calmly and without a lot of spamalicious repetition. I send out an occasional newsletter (maybe once or twice a year). I write my blog posts here. And I take care of my web site. Since my day job involves web development, that last is the one which feels the most like work, but it's also easy for me, so it's not onerous.

Here is what I do not do: I do not sacrifice writing for marketing.

Why do I use this approach? Because I have no idea what works and what doesn't when it comes to marketing books, but I know what works and what doesn't when it comes to marketing books to me. The people who put writing ahead of marketing (and put writing ahead of their own celebrity), and who engage with their readers as fellow human beings are the ones who get my attention, and often my dollars.

So that's what I try to do.

And, yeah, when I stick with that, it is fun. Effective? Who knows? But at least it doesn't make me insaaaaaaane.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Than You Want to Know

by Sophie

"Do you like doing all the marketing, social networking, etc.?

In October of 2007, I started a blog. I had just bought my first Mac in years, and I set it up in about thirty seconds and stared at its beautiful shiny surface and wondered what I should do to mark its arrival. Getting the words and paragraphs and pages done wasn't a problem; I had made the decision months earlier to treat writing as my full-time job despite having no agent and no contract, and I'd been fulfilling my obligation to myself.

But I kept hearing people in my RWA chapter talking about the importance of developing a "presence" (shortly after that people started calling it a "platform," a term that hung in there most of last year and now seems to be ceding to a general discussion of participation in social media) - - and as usually happens with me and cultural trends, I felt left behind.

As I've written on this blog in the past, I am emphatically not an early adopter. I'm about as hip as an 8-track tape and have no desire to be first with any new toy. However, I cherish and respect my career enough that when I realized this was part of the job, I jumped in.

Here's a funny thing - I think my early blog posts, those I wrote at the end of '07 and into the early months of '08, were the best I'll ever do. I had time on my hands, for one thing - my only authorial tasks were to write and query. (Those days are LONG gone.) I was new to the exercise, so I strove mightily to get it right and put the time in polishing and drafting, a luxury I rarely can afford now. Also, and possibly most important and hardest to explain, I was writing for an audience of...zero. No one read my posts. I didn't tweet or have a facebook page so I had no way to direct traffic there; my family loves *me* but is indifferent to my presence/platform/whatever; and I had no real content to offer. In fact, I still hadn't placed my first short story in a 'zine.

None of that particularly bothered me. I've always been aware that the act of writing is, at base, a conversation with myself, an extended and awkward therapy session I conduct in my head. This was just one more canvas to paint on.

Which may be one of the reasons that, once people *did* start reading my posts (and trust me, pals, it's still no kind of big number) I took all those posts down. They felt oddly...raw. Not exactly too personal, because I've shared lots of personal stuff here and elsewhere and I kind of firmly and out-of-the-mainstream-ly believe that revelation - in the form of tangential asides, which is what blogging feels like to me - can be ameliorative to the main process. But perhaps...too fresh. Revelations which I hadn't simmered or cogitated sufficiently. First reactions, almost like a Rorschach test response - and since then, I've learned that a blog post (the current one excepted, oddly, because I'm very stream-of-consciousness at the moment) is more successful when one drafts and then refines it, considering an audience and maybe even letting the ego/super-ego in to refine what the id started.

Now see, that last paragraph is an example of one that on subsequent read begs refinement. But I'll let it stand as an illustration. Maybe even a cautionary example. :)

Anyway, blah blah blah, time went on and I ended up on several group blogs, and then there were several late nights in 2009 when certain thriller writers bullied me into Twitter and Facebook, and I had to sheepishly admit that they had been right all along and all my carmudgeonly refusal to play had been pointless. Yes, I like it. I like it, okay??!! Writing is tough, it's crazy-making and occasionally lonely, and I love dragging my fingertips through the torrid currents of the twitterverse when I'm especially stuck. Someone's always around to waste time with, and I'm positively addicted.

But for God's sake, ...."tweet"?? Makes me want to carve off strips of flesh. Horses and barn doors I suppose, but I do hope that when the next innovation is sprung upon us, someone will give a nod to dignity...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Joys of Social Networking?

"Do you like doing all the marketing, social networking and other obligations of modern book publishing? Or would you prefer to just sit in your room writing, with no business-side duties?"

by Rebecca Cantrell


Not counting being a mother, what I love most of all writing in a room all by myself without anyone bothering me. Since I am a mother, I only write during school hours and after bedtime. And now that my son is getting older bedtime is getting later. The social networking and promotional stuff drives me nuts. Every morning I read my email on my old personal account, my Rebecca Cantrell account, and my Bekka Black account. Then I check my messages on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve abandoned MySpace, so if you’re trying to contact me there go to another portal.


After I deal with all of those messages that are so urgent they can’t wait until just before bedtime, then I’m allowed to write. Except not really. There are a ton of other promotional details: book giveaways, blogging, mailing copies to bloggers and reviewers (I can go through that automatic mailer machine at the post office so quickly people have been known to line up to watch me), getting those book trailers in shape, booking a blog tour. And every one of those things that I don’t get to make me feel horribly guilty because I’m clearly not doing all I can to sell my books. And if they don’t sell, I don’t get to write more.

I have met some wonderful people online and at conferences and made friendships that I treasure so it’s not like I hate every minute of it. I am completely humbled every time I meet someone who chose to spend $25 hard-earned dollars and at least eight nonrefundable hours of their lives reading my book. As sappy as it sounds, every time someone says “I read your book and I loved it!” I actually get tears in my eyes. It is so amazing.

But I’ve discovered one thing since I sold A TRACE OF SMOKE a few years ago: it’s really all about what I do in that room all by myself with no interruptions. It’s all about words on the page, words that will turn into a book if I just give them the time and the care that they need. So, I’ve cut back everywhere that I dare so that I can do the part of the job that I love best, and the part that readers treasure most: listen to the characters tell me a story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs...Oh, My!

"Do you like doing all the marketing, social networking and other obligations of modern book publishing? Or would you prefer to just sit in your room writing, with no business-side duties?"

When I first learned the topic of this week’s discussion, I thought of a wonderful quote from Peter de Vries: “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.”

Oh, how well he summed up the irony of modern publishing.

Gone are the days when writers were allowed to do precisely what they were expected to do -– write.

Today many of us are expected to maintain/participate in one or more of the following:
1. A personal website
2. A webpage linked to our publisher or other site such as Amazon.com
3. Facebook (often personal as well as a “fan page” and maybe a fan group)
4. MySpace
5. Personal blog and guest blog appearances (especially as our release dates approach)
6. Twitter
7. Skype
8. Interviews
9. Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, or other book cataloging site
10. A newsletter
11. A fan forum
12. Group blogs
13. Attend conferences
14. Host book launch parties
15. In-store book signings/tours
And these are just a few of the most prevalent social networking and/or marketing obligations. I’m certain there are others. Plus, these are in addition to researching our next book/series as well as actually writing that next book or starting that next series. Throw in the day jobs that many writers keep for various reasons, spouses/partners, kids, pets, extended family, and friends and it’s a wonder any books are written at all.

Now, as to answering the question from my personal perspective, I have a serious love/hate relationship with the obligations we face from modern publishing. While I don’t participate in all of the above, I do have a website and enjoy hanging out on Twitter and Facebook, posting to Criminal Minds and another group blog as well as my own (when I have something interesting to say) and a few other items from the list.

But, I’m the new kid on the block and debut authors often feel the most pressure to perform and participate in all of these outlets. It’s my theory this intense pressure is often a contributor to the dreaded “sophomore slump,” a second novel that doesn’t stand up to the expectations met or exceeded by the first. We become blinded by the need to market and promote our book that we don’t spend as much care and time with the second one.

Would I prefer to sit in my darkened cave...uh...my room and write? YES! (There is a reason my husband gave me a T-shirt that reads "Keep Out of Direct Sunlight" for my birthday one year.)

Is that going to happen? NO!

Will I learn to suck it up and deal with it? Yep.

Will I like it? Not really, but give me coffee and a supply of Tootsie Roll pops, and I’ll at least be happy until the next book is ready for promotion.


- Jeannie

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hurts So Bad


Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

When a character suffers, do I? When a tree falls in the wood and no one hears it, does it fall? I love a good philosophical conundrum.

Contrary to a widely held belief, particularly by those who’ve met me and experienced, first hand, my fast and filleting tongue, I am not Sara. I’m not actually any of the characters I’ve ever written. So, while I strive to live in her head and speak with her voice, strangely like mine, I am not living her life. She does suffer – from insecurities I don’t share, from personal issues I’ve never had and from gun shots that have never been fired in my direction. That’s the physical. I don’t suffer with Sara. She suffers with me.

I am not a Siamese twin with my character but I can’t sit down and write a scene and leave my actual world behind completely. I know that fiction is imagination. There are lots of things that end up in the story that I haven’t personally experienced. But the emotions, they come from somewhere. For example, a bad negotiation for me at work, one with a pinstriped elitist lawyer working for a corporate behemoth morphs into a character taking a swing at a patronizing witness with scary social connections. The character might get arrested but bail can be resolved in Monopoly money and I don’t personally do any hard time. I’m also ready to take on pinstripe pin head in Round 2. A lawyer and a business guy who spend months wasting my time with the endless refrain of everyone else rolls over every time we call ends up as a composite character with a pitchfork sticking out of their chest. It’s a grisly, if satisfying, way to vent my professional spleen. They may be two-dimensional imaginary friends, but they always make me feel better. Even when they have to be sacrificed at the altar of my anger.

On the other hand, I can become fond of characters. I end up liking some of them in a way that makes it difficult to put them in the cross hairs of whatever plot I might be cooking. I may hesitate but I don’t avoid their pain. I am trying to write smart characters. My protagonist has resources, both internal and external, that I can only envy. Her husband is both tough under pressure and tender beyond my scope. Russ Smith, best friend, is funnier and more loyal than my crazy dog. I’m not worried about them. My imaginary friends have proven that they can take anything my evil brain can throw their way. What’s more, they can surprise me while they’re doing it. They can even do so with style and heaven knows they aren’t getting that from me.

I have been working on something new. In it, for the first time, I sacrificed a character I liked, one I empathized with and wanted to survive. But he couldn’t. It didn’t make sense in the context of the story and my wanting him alive compromised my killer’s wanting him dead. Needing him dead. The truth is I empathize with my murderer, too. He’s the most complicated psychological character I’ve ever attempted and his transgressions, great though they may be, aren’t without emotional balance. I felt bad for both of them. One for becoming collateral damage in a plot not of his making and the other for the life, the back story, that made him become the man he is. It wasn’t suffering I felt. It was sympathy. It was recognition. It was compassion. And when it came time for the death, it was done.

I can only hope that my readers respond the same way to my characters and my stories. I don’t want them to feel pain. I don’t want them to suffer. I want them – you – to believe. For that, I have to feel. The characters have to feel. And hopefully you can feel, too.

Thanks for reading -- and don't forget Meredith Cole's new book Dead in the Water is now available. I can't wait to get mine.

Gabi